Top 60 Post-Draft Rookie Big Board: Ranks 1-10

Updated: May 23rd 2014

What an eventful and exciting NFL Draft! From the big surprise with the Jaguars taking Blake Bortles #3 overall to Johnny Football slipping to the Browns at #22 and all the crazy trades in between, the 1st Round was truly great theater. Now that the real NFL Draft is over, I am going to give you my thoughts on who the top rookies are for RSO Rookie Drafts now that we know where each player has landed. I have put my pre-draft ranking of the player in parentheses.

1. Sammy Watkins, WR, Buffalo Bills (1)

RSO owners holding the first overall pick in their respective rookie drafts face a similar dilemma as the Houston Texans encountered with Jadeveon Clowney a few weeks ago: Select the most talented player on the board OR risk being burned down the road by a player you had the chance to snag. I’d go with the former.

Bills WR Depth Chart: (1) Watkins (2) Robert Woods (3) Mike Williams (4) T.J. Graham

Team Factors

  • Second-year QB E.J. Manuel’s development and durability
  • RBs C.J. Spiller, Bryce Brown and Fred Jackson (assuming he’s not cut), along with WR Robert Woods, all must pick up their young QB to ease some of the burden
  • The Bills brought in four new offensive linemen this offseason, including two that are projected starters. Still, it would be a reach to project this line as a top 15 unit, in spite of Cordy Glenn’s emergence as a franchise Left Tackle.

Coach Notes

  • HC Doug Marrone will employ every last bit of Watkins’ versatility. All Marrone needs is for his young quarterback to consistently get the ball in Sammy’s vicinity.

2. Jeremy Hill, RB, Cincinnati Bengals (2)

Although the Bengals finished 27th in yards per carry last season at just 3.6 yds, many were surprised by the team’s use of another second-round pick on a running back (Gio Bernard in 2013). It sure looks as though BenJarvus Green-Ellis is being run out of Cincinnati. When “The Law Firm” was in the game last season, defenses regularly ignored the possibility of a chunk run and creeped safeties into the box. His soon-to-be replacement, Jeremy Hill, will command more defensive integrity from teams and is destined to help RSO owners, particularly near the goal line.

Bengals RB Depth Chart: (1) Bernard (2) Green-Ellis (3) Hill (4) Cedric Peerman

Team Factors

  • The degree to which the QB Andy Dalton-WR AJ Green combination preoccupies defenses.
  • The Bengals dealt with injuries on their O-Line in extremely impressive fashion last season. That said, the team lost its most athletic lineman in Tackle Anthony Collins, and Andrew Whitworth’s shift back to T will leave their interior line quite young.

Coach Notes

  • Hue Jackson takes over as Offensive Coordinator after serving as the Running Backs Coach last season. That alone should suffice for why the Bengals went in this direction.

3. Brandin Cooks, WR, New Orleans Saints (5)

My favorite player-team fit of the first round, by far. Cooks will be more than viable as a replacement for the departed Darren Sproles. I’m looking forward to seeing how Sean Payton weaves the speedster into the gameplan from week-to-week. Cooks was already top 5 pre-draft and now with Drew Brees at the helm, he climbs to the third spot.

Saints WR Depth Chart: (1) Marques Colston (2) Kenny Stills (3) Cooks (4) Robert Meachem (5) Joe Morgan

Team Factors

  • He’ll line up as the fourth “receiver” for his new team, behind Jimmy Graham, Marques Colston and Kenny Stills, but Cooks could end up as the top RSO rookie receiver this season. Although Sammy Watkins (Bills), Mike Evans (Buccaneers) and Odell Beckham Jr. (Giants) were all drafted ahead of him, Cooks landed with the best offense and best QB of that group.
  • I’m not overly concerned about the Saints’ need at Center, since the eventual starter will be flanked by Pro Bowlers Jahri Evans and Ben Grubbs. However, Terron Armstrong’s development as Drew Brees’ blindside protector is worth monitoring. Cooks also could see a drop in his value if an injury occurs in the front five.

Coach Notes

  • Once training camp opens in July, HC Payton will no doubt find a lot of creative uses for the 5’9″, 189-pound receiver. That’s certainly what former NFL coach Mike Riley did with Cooks in a pro-style offensive system at Oregon State.
  • Cooks said he feels like he has been absorbing the playbook well so far and that it helps that a lot of the concepts and terminology are similar to the offense he ran under Riley.

4. Eric Ebron, TE, Detroit Lions (3)

Ebron was indeed the only first-rounder taken at his position, but he still slides in our 2.0 rankings. Red zone production was one of the few question marks around Ebron entering the draft. With two giant running mates who excel at high pointing the ball in the RZ (Megatron & “Big” Joe Fauria) already in the fold, the rookie TE will have to prove his versatility is too rare to be substituted for. Still a top 5 selection.

Lions TE Depth Chart: (1) Ebron (2) Brandon Pettigrew (3) Joseph Fauria

Team Factors

  • Ebron will give QB Matt Stafford another receiving weapon and take the pressure off Calvin Johnson. If Ebron sees 75+ targets, his selection could push your RSO team to a league championship.

Coach Notes

  • New OC Joe Lombardi will bring some New Orleans flavor to Motown, having spent the last seven seasons with Sean Payton’s prolific offense. Ebron is a natural fit for certain tactics the Lions will now employ, and he’ll do his best to channel his inner-Jimmy Graham.

5. Johnny Manziel, QB, Cleveland Browns (6)

Although the Browns publicly labeled Manziel as the backup QB, they have also publicly acknowledged Manziel has the “it” factor. Speaking of labels – “Johnny Cleveland” has already been coined, which is fitting since this decision will eventually come down to numbers…and I’m not talking statistics; Browns fans didn’t go out in groves to buy season tickets for a chance to see QB Brian Hoyer.

Browns QB Depth Chart: (1) Brian Hoyer (2) Manziel

Team Factors

  • No problems up front with stud Left Tackle Joe Thomas. Huge problems on a wing with the impending suspension of WR Josh Gordon, the NFL’s 2013 leading receiver.

Coach Notes

  • New OC Kyle Shanahan, who coached Robert Griffin III the past two years in Washington, acknowledged recently that mobility is a plus for a QB in his scheme. Manziel certainly possesses unique ability to wiggle out of trouble, but he’ll have to consistently update his own game to keep up with NFL defensive preparation.

6. Carlos Hyde, RB, San Francisco 49ers (14)

Hyde shoots up to the No. 6, because his fit with the 49ers makes him an attractive long-term investment in RSO leagues. Frank Gore may remain effective in the final year of his contract, but even so, Hyde will get a number of short-yardage calls in 2013. Marcus Lattimore has hinted he’ll never regain his pre-injury strength and Kendall Hunter is a change-of-pace back. If you have positional flexibility on your RSO squad, take a hard look at Hyde in the first round.

49ers RB Depth Chart: (1) Gore (2) Hyde (3) Kendall Hunter (4) Lattimore (5) LaMichael James

Team Factors

  • Starter Frank Gore is in the twilight of his career.
  • Maulers like Joe Staley and Mike Iupati should continue to open holes moving forward.
  • Kaepernick diverts quite a bit of opposing defensive coordinators’ attention.

Coach Notes

  • Hyde is a 230-pound battering ram. He fits the bill for HC Jim Harbaugh’s offense, one that is built from the inside-out and centers on a solid rushing attack. Harbaugh deploys a variety of formations and pre-snap motions to get numerical advantages in the box. Once Hyde sees the field, he should be able to move the chains and find paint for your RSO squad.

7. Cody Latimer, WR, Denver Broncos (20)

Former first-round selection Demaryius Thomas broke his foot preparing for the combine in 2010 and still went on to be the team’s leading receiver, so there’s little concern on my end about Latimer’s recovery from January foot surgery. The IU product has a great cast around him and will get a shot to compete for the starting void left by Eric Decker’s move to NYC.

Broncos WR Depth Chart: (1) Demaryius Thomas (2) Wes Welker (3) Emmanuel Sanders (4) Latimer (5) Andre Caldwell

Team Factors

  • Peyton Manning.

Coach Notes

  • Peyton Manning.

8. Mike Evans, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (12)

I found the Bucs’ draft to be one of the more interesting results. Six picks, all on offense. This is a revamped O which cannot be compared to a 2013 unit that ranked dead last in passing yards. It’s clear the new regime intends to duplicate a blueprint QB Josh McCown found comfort in last year: Bigger is better. McCown’s top 3 targets in Chicago were, on average, 6’4⅓” and 236 lbs. With the additions of Evans and TE Sefarian-Jenkins in Tampa, McCown’s three primaries now average out at 6’5” and 240 lbs.

Buccaneers WR Depth Chart: (1) Vincent Jackson (2) Evans (3) Chris Owusu (4) Louis Murphy (5) Robert Herron

Team Factors

  • QB Josh McCown/QB Mike Glennon battle.
  • The potential to see a lot of single coverage as a result of being stationed opposite WR Vincent Jackson.
  • The Bucs got more athletic at both the Left Tackle and Center positions through Free Agency. If Guard Carl Nicks comes back healthy, their OL unit could be one of the league’s best.

Coach Notes

  • OC Jeff Tedford’s arrival signals a move to a new style of offense. Since it’s geared around using a physical running game to create space for playmakers, Mike Evans will get looks downfield off of play-action.
  • Evans played exclusively on the right side of the field at A&M, so Tedford’s plan to produce mismatches through motion may take some time to materialize.

9. Bishop Sankey, RB, Tennessee Titans (13)

Sankey has a chance to earn a prominent role in the backfield this coming season, especially with Shonn Greene sidelined with injury to open camp.

Titans RB Depth Chart: (1) Shonn Greene (2) Sankey (3) Dexter McCluster (4) Jackie Battle

Team Factors

  • With the Titans cutting Chris Johnson in the offseason, the opportunity is there for Sankey.
  • A bit surprising to see the Titans go OL early in the draft again (Tackle Taylor Lewan). Then again, last year’s first-round pick Chance Warmack struggled noticeably in 2013.
  • In general, their interior line was porous and comes into 2014 looking like a crowded, mediocre unit. Further, their most professional and most productive lineman, Tackle Michael Roos, may be shown the door.

Coach Notes

  • Sankey should see a lot of carries in new HC Ken Whisenhunt’s offense – Ryan Mathews and Danny Woodhead combined for almost 400 carries and more than 100 receptions under Whisenhunt last season in San Diego.

10. Odell Beckham Jr., WR, New York Giants (4)

New York Giants WR Odell Beckham Jr. will be expected to contribute immediately in the passing game, according to Giants general manager Jerry Reese. Their offense could not backtrack much further, so Beckham Jr. should see looks early and often.

Giants WR Depth Chart: (1) Victor Cruz (2) Rueben Randle (3) Beckham Jr. (4) Jerrel Jernigan (5) Mario Manningham

Team Factors

  • Beckham can alleviate some of the pressure on Victor Cruz, while reuniting with his former college teammate and “big brother” Rueben Randle as they try to establish themselves in the NFL.
  • If any of the Giants receivers prove valuable in 2014 RSO leagues, it will be due to improved protection for Eli Manning. Pro Football Focus had the Giants offensive line ranked 28th league-wide in 2013.

Coach Notes

  • New OC Ben McAdoo will use Beckham Jr. in a Randall Cobb-like role from day 1.

Keep on the look out for more rookie analysis over the coming weeks. If you need any advice regarding your RSO Rookie Draft, reach out to me on Twitter @SamHerbie

Drop 'Em Like It's Hot

Updated: May 15th 2014

Registration is now open for the 2014 RSO Fantasy Football Season! Learn more >>

Sometimes art imitates life.  So when I get a chance to quote movies or music lyrics, I usually don’t pass that up. And when I get the chance to do that in the context of fantasy football and offering advice when to drop a multi-year player who just isn’t living up to his contract,  I’m “Bout It, Bout It”.

To analyze tough decisions you are facing, I thought it would be helpful to do some slicing and dicing of the existing Reality Sports Online long-term contract data by position across all RSO leagues.  So the tables represent all 2013 RSO leagues, regardless of size.  The tables below by position contain the quantity of contracts, average annual salaries, and contract lengths for what typically makes up 80% of a particular position.  In other words, the players most often kept and their average contract values and lengths.  This way, if you are a new owner to a RSO league in 2014, you won’t be going into the amazingly unique Free Agency Auction without some context, even if you haven’t had time to do a Mock Auction (shameless plug, this feature has just been added and is incredibly helpful).

So let’s jump right in by position and figure out some names based on contract values that owners may want to cut bait with either for past performance, need for cap space to go after a rookie like Sammy Watkins or Bishop Sankey in the Rookie Draft, or dump a player you simply don’t believe in as much as you once did. In RSO, if you’re cutting bait, the best time to do it is in the offseason where only 50% of the future years of the contract are guaranteed.  But, be careful because as you can probably imagine, there is nothing worse than paying for someone who is no longer on your roster.  Do the analysis and be confident that your player will not add value for you again and you’d rather have the cap space to go after another player who can help you before cutting a player who won’t be picked up on waivers at their current deal.

Quarterback

QB Chart-All RSO Leagues 2014 Offseason

QB Chart-All RSO Leagues 2014 Offseason

Tom Brady

I’m not saying Brady’s “Glory Days” are 100% behind him, but with a yet-again banged up Gronk, no real scary outside stretch the field threat (sorry Brandon LaFell, that’s not you), a confusing running back rotation, and a bevy of younger QBs who offer more upside, if you are north or near the 2.84 years and $18.4m annual RSO average for Brady, take your 50% back potentially and trade him in for a newer model, especially if you have multiple years left.

Matt Ryan

Matty Ice is all about the “Price Tag” for me.   There are a lot of questions on the offensive line (Jake Matthews will definitely help), uncertainty about Julio Jones lingering foot problems, and an aging core of offensive talent in Roddy White and Steven Jackson.  The Falcons figure to put a dismal 2013 behind them offensively, but at 3.43 years and $16.6m annual RSO average, you certainly can do better and take your chances in free agency to get a comparable QB cheaper and shorter.

Tony Romo & Eli Manning

While these two options around $6.1m annually represent a great value if they are productive (and ability to spend money on other positions of need), my biggest concern with them are the years.  In Romo’s case, monitor this back surgery recovery carefully.  Not sure you can trust him in a fantasy playoff game and if Romo was a song, he’d be U2’s “With or Without You” and you probably can’t win either way. As for Eli, same trust deal even though the offense couldn’t get any worse than 2013 and the Odell Beckham Jr. pick along with significant draft picks spent on the offensive line can only help matters. I’d probably stick with Eli and proceed with caution on Romo.

Running Back

As a quick primer, remember that the most frequently kept Running Backs were 2013 rookies, which in RSO would have been drafted in the rookie draft at a predetermined rookie wage scale, similar to NFL.  So players like Eddie Lacy and Giovani Bernard in leagues that didn’t tinker with the rookie draft in 2013 (remember that RSO is a very customizable platform), are locked up at low relative dollar amounts compared to players like Doug Martin, Ray Rice, and Lesean McCoy.  The NFL is a passing league and you have to try to find fantasy value over the long term in a league where running back committees are becoming more prevalent.  So be careful not to cut bait too early on someone with potential, but let the years, the contract amounts, your overall cap space relative to your league, and the quality of the free agent pool determine what your strategy is.  For instance, in my league, I may be entering the 2014 Free Agent Auction with zero running backs on my roster (disclaimer-in my league only 1 RB is mandatory to start on a 10 player starting lineup), but figure to have the cap space to address this gap as I am heading into my auction with 4 WRs locked up as well as all the other positions.

RB1

RB 2014 RSO Offseason

Trent Richardson

If you’re holding onto “Two Yard Trent” from picking him as the supposed bell-cow in Cleveland, you obviously have tempered expectations by now.  I would say heed the advice of Jason Mraz’ “I Won’t Give Up” on Richardson.  He now has had an offseason to learn the offense after being traded to Indy in Week 3 last year and will be given every opportunity to be the guy.  I know that you’re paying Richardson premium dollars for mediocre production, but he’s probably better than you’ll get on the free agent market in terms of talent, not necessarily price.  Stick it out for 2014 and if he lays another egg, when you have one season left on a 3 year deal in the 2015 offseason, send him packing.

Ray Rice

As an owner of Rice right now, are you more concerned by the potential suspension for his brush-up with the law, his 2013 production, the fact that the Ravens say they are bringing in another 1-2 running backs to help out, or all of the above?  The Ravens 2013 offensive philosophy didn’t stick to the run and the offensive line showed no ability to block and Rice showed no burst to get to the second level or even approach first downs, which may have been related to his hip flexor.  Throw out a good game against the Bears who everyone seemed to run on in 2013, and Rice’s stats are even less impressive.  Consider him to be the Sneaker Pimps 6 Underground, because Rice’s fantasy status is “open to falling from grace”.  If a 4 game suspension is announced prior to the season, get back 50% of your future salaries owed (especially at the 3 year $21m annual average).  I’d rather take the chance at making a run at another running back with the money.

David Wilson

While Wilson’s annual RSO average of 3.1 years and $10.7m annual average wasn’t overly intimidating when you got him last season, you certainly are concerned about his neck injury.  From what I’ve read the Giants would consider it a bonus if Wilson shows up healthy which GM Jerry Reese seems to indicate will be by training camp and it seems like Rashad Jennings is penciled in as the starter right now.  Consider the drafting of Heisman Finalist Andre Williams from Boston College to be more Wilson insurance and depth at this point.  While a healthy Wilson certainly offers more flash and upside (don’t forget he was in Tom Coughlin’s doghouse for most of the early season on fumbling and pass protection issues), you really have to pay attention to the offseason injury news and wait for the “Next Episode”.  Hold on as long as you can this offseason and if you get significant negative injury news, you probably don’t want to hold him for another two years.

Chris Johnson & Maurice Jones-Drew

Grouping these two together as fantasy studs of the past who are both on new teams.  I’m higher on Johnson’s chances with the Jets “Empire State of Mind” than MJD’s with the Raiders.  The thought of Johnson and Vick in the same backfield is kinda crazy speedwise and I think the Jets will be better at game-planning with Johnson and throwing him screens in space for your PPR friendly leagues.  MJD is going to a fantasy wasteland in Oakland and a crowded backfield with the oft-injured Darren McFadden and Latavius Murray.  If you have one year left at $12.6m, take Steve Miller’s advice and “Take The Money and Run”.

Lamar Miller

Now that the Dolphins have signed Knowshon Moreno and Miller couldn’t hold off someone in Daniel Thomas who one could say wasn’t even deserving of being on an NFL roster last season, it seems like the end is near for Miller.  Wouldn’t you rather have Lamar Latrell of “Revenge of the Nerds” fame over Miller?  At least his throwing style could result in some passing yards for your fantasy squad.  I’ve also read that the Dolphins are planning on being a pass heavy offense this season.  They still have an overhaul on their offensive line ahead from the Jonathan Martin bullying incident as well, which they’ve started in free agency and the draft.  I wouldn’t wait around for the 3rd year of Miller, as the only thing positive about his situation is that Miami didn’t draft a RB last week.  He’s too “Radioactive”.

Others Highlighted in Green

Be careful keeping high-priced handcuffs or backups.  Daryl Richardson has been cut by the Rams this week and while he may have held some value last offseason, if you still own him, send him packing.  In Bryce Brown’s case his only value would be if C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson are not re-signed after the 2014 season) to become valuable this season or down the line.  If you need the cap space, these type of guys may not get you that much money back, but are low hanging fruit and certainly debatable based on salary, production, or both.

Wide Receiver

Probably my favorite position to write about as there is talent at all price tags and these players are the easiest to justify long multi-year deals for based on how reliant teams are on their elite wideouts.  The lesson here is know when you are paying high dollars to someone who doesn’t deserve it and jump ship.  Also notice who is missing from here: Alshon Jeffery, who figures to be a RSO free agent in most leagues in 2014.

WR1

2014 WR RSO All Leagues

WR Chart-All RSO Leagues 2014 Offseason

Danny Amendola

People clearly expected Amendola to be the Wes Welker of the 2013 Patriots.  He clearly wasn’t as he couldn’t stay on the field long enough to be productive.  I can’t justify 2.5 years and $9.5m annual average salary for Amendola as Julian Edelman is the slot WR, Gronk will be back in play at some point and Aaron Dobson should improve.  Even if I’m wrong in hindsight to cut him, this is an easy to make, calculated risk and recently drafted 7th rounder Jeremy Gallon from Michigan is a player that can fit in to the Patriots scheme at Amendola’s expense.  “Drop ‘Em Like It’s Hot”.

Dwayne Bowe

Which Bowe do you have on your team?  The one who caught 8 for 150 and a TD in the playoff game vs. Indianapolis or the Bowe who had 57 catches on 105 targets for 673 yards and 5 TD’s in the 2013 Regular Season?  He’s still only 29 years old and does have a 15 TD season in his portfolio, but hasn’t had more than 5 TD’s in a season since, in spite of being the clear #1 WR on his team.  As a fantasy owner, can you really trust him in a game you have to win?  I can’t.  For those who have kids and were dragged to see Frozen, “Let It Go”.

Roddy White

I actually like Roddy White and think he could produce in 2014.  Call me “Mr. Brightside”.  It is a tough call at $11.3m though.  If all indications are that he’s healthy, you have to think that White will be seeing some of Tony Gonzalez’s looks and you have to think Atlanta will rebound in some fashion with ideally healthy Julio Jones and Steven Jackson.  Hakeem Nicks is another guy who I think could turn it around on a one-year prove it deal in Indy and at 2.8 avg. years and $9m, if he produces you’re looking at a good third year of the deal.  Hold both if you can.

Kenbrell Thompkins

Was a nice preseason story last year and made a few big plays early in the season.  Later in the season, he was abysmal.  Josh Boyce and Aaron Dobson are better options, as is free agent signing Brandon LaFell, so Thompkins may not even make the Patriots.  Cut him.

Tight End

Tight End is often a slighted position, so it could represent significant value for you in your RSO league.  On the flip side, the contract values are lower, so cutting a player may not yield that much cap savings.  It may also make for a less involved decision.    First off, for the 6 owners who still had Aaron Hernandez on their teams, my condolences.  Feel free to cut him.  Same goes for the 37 owners holding out hope that Tony Gonzalez wouldn’t retire after the 2013 season.

Tight End Chart-2014 RSO Offseason

Tight End Chart-All RSO Leagues 2014 Offseason

Jared Cook

His week 1 jauggernaut last year showed what Cook can do if given the looks.  He doesn’t seem particularly engaged for an entire game.  I could go either way on him.  I’d probably stick at 2.5 years and $3.1m average, even though he was the only Multi-Year player cut from my RSO league last season (on a team that does have some wealth at the TE position).

Owen Daniels

A productive TE for years who has battled health issues now returns to play under Gary Kubiak as OC in Baltimore.  However, he’s sharing again, this time with Dennis Pitta, who just got big dollars from the Ravens and are there enough balls for Torrey Smith, Steve Smith, and two TE’s?  I think you can do better than Daniels in a 10-12 team league, therefore, I’d say “Hit the Road Jack”.

Jermichael Finley

See David Wilson.  Finley may have a better shot to play, but his value really depends on what team signs him.  If Green Bay determines he’s fine and brings him back, even though they drafted a TE, definitely keep him.  Otherwise, like the Roots say “Proceed” with caution.

Coby Fleener

You’ll think I’m “Crazy” for my views on Fleener, but consider him the #4 receiving option behind T.Y. Hilton, Reggie Wayne, and Hakeem Nicks and he’s sharing with a now healthy and better all around player in Dwayne Allen.  I know he and Luck have history, but Fleener is very inconsistent.  I’d much rather have Zach Ertz than Fleener and some of the other players on this list.

Defense/Special Teams

If you are keeping a DST on a multi-year deal, make 100% certain that they will produce from year to year.  Defenses fluctuate based on offensive pace, special teams plays, yardage allowed and many other variables.  Heading into 2014, there are only a handful of DSTs you can be sure about and maybe another couple that you may like for future speculation purposes.  Seattle and San Francisco are definite keepers.   Houston, Chicago, Baltimore and Pittsburgh below are definitely not in that group to me, with Baltimore probably being the strongest of the bunch and Houston second based on all the young draft picks that will immediately bolster the pass rush.

If you are looking for a little cap room flexibility, think of dropping a DST.  Denver is interesting to potentially keep based on their free agent signings of Aqib Talib, DeMarcus Ware, and T.J. Ward and are definitely going for broke in 2014, although they did lose Trindon Holliday in the return game.  Don’t eliminate the possibility of taking advantage of the low dollar value Top 5 average to use your Franchise Tag on a DST, especially if the value is there if you don’t have a DST on a multi-year contract.

Defense/Special Teams-All RSO Leagues 2014 Offseason

Defense/Special Teams Chart-All RSO Leagues 2014 Offseason

Kicker

I’m shocked by the numbers of kickers kept in the table below.  Kicker performance is somewhat unpredictable as well, but I’m good with you keeping kickers like Stephen Gostkowski and Matt Prater.  I’d cut the guys highlighted in green-Garrett Hartley because he’s not likely to be on an NFL roster and the other two based on middling offenses and the fact that Blair Walsh is moving outside from the dome for the next two years and Caleb Sturgis $3.0m annual price tag is too much for a kicker, regardless of league.

K Chart- All RSO Leagues 2014 Offseason

K Chart- All RSO Leagues 2014 Offseason

I hope all this analysis is helpful to both experienced RSO owners and ones joining this unique platform for the 2014 season.  Feel free to follow me on Twitter via @mattgoody2 and I’d welcome any specific questions you have regarding your fantasy teams and feedback for future article topics as the offseason progresses.

Registration is now open for the 2014 RSO Fantasy Football Season! Learn more >>

Drop ‘Em Like It’s Hot

Updated: May 15th 2014

Registration is now open for the 2014 RSO Fantasy Football Season! Learn more >>

Sometimes art imitates life.  So when I get a chance to quote movies or music lyrics, I usually don’t pass that up. And when I get the chance to do that in the context of fantasy football and offering advice when to drop a multi-year player who just isn’t living up to his contract,  I’m “Bout It, Bout It”.

To analyze tough decisions you are facing, I thought it would be helpful to do some slicing and dicing of the existing Reality Sports Online long-term contract data by position across all RSO leagues.  So the tables represent all 2013 RSO leagues, regardless of size.  The tables below by position contain the quantity of contracts, average annual salaries, and contract lengths for what typically makes up 80% of a particular position.  In other words, the players most often kept and their average contract values and lengths.  This way, if you are a new owner to a RSO league in 2014, you won’t be going into the amazingly unique Free Agency Auction without some context, even if you haven’t had time to do a Mock Auction (shameless plug, this feature has just been added and is incredibly helpful).

So let’s jump right in by position and figure out some names based on contract values that owners may want to cut bait with either for past performance, need for cap space to go after a rookie like Sammy Watkins or Bishop Sankey in the Rookie Draft, or dump a player you simply don’t believe in as much as you once did. In RSO, if you’re cutting bait, the best time to do it is in the offseason where only 50% of the future years of the contract are guaranteed.  But, be careful because as you can probably imagine, there is nothing worse than paying for someone who is no longer on your roster.  Do the analysis and be confident that your player will not add value for you again and you’d rather have the cap space to go after another player who can help you before cutting a player who won’t be picked up on waivers at their current deal.

Quarterback

QB Chart-All RSO Leagues 2014 Offseason

QB Chart-All RSO Leagues 2014 Offseason

Tom Brady

I’m not saying Brady’s “Glory Days” are 100% behind him, but with a yet-again banged up Gronk, no real scary outside stretch the field threat (sorry Brandon LaFell, that’s not you), a confusing running back rotation, and a bevy of younger QBs who offer more upside, if you are north or near the 2.84 years and $18.4m annual RSO average for Brady, take your 50% back potentially and trade him in for a newer model, especially if you have multiple years left.

Matt Ryan

Matty Ice is all about the “Price Tag” for me.   There are a lot of questions on the offensive line (Jake Matthews will definitely help), uncertainty about Julio Jones lingering foot problems, and an aging core of offensive talent in Roddy White and Steven Jackson.  The Falcons figure to put a dismal 2013 behind them offensively, but at 3.43 years and $16.6m annual RSO average, you certainly can do better and take your chances in free agency to get a comparable QB cheaper and shorter.

Tony Romo & Eli Manning

While these two options around $6.1m annually represent a great value if they are productive (and ability to spend money on other positions of need), my biggest concern with them are the years.  In Romo’s case, monitor this back surgery recovery carefully.  Not sure you can trust him in a fantasy playoff game and if Romo was a song, he’d be U2’s “With or Without You” and you probably can’t win either way. As for Eli, same trust deal even though the offense couldn’t get any worse than 2013 and the Odell Beckham Jr. pick along with significant draft picks spent on the offensive line can only help matters. I’d probably stick with Eli and proceed with caution on Romo.

Running Back

As a quick primer, remember that the most frequently kept Running Backs were 2013 rookies, which in RSO would have been drafted in the rookie draft at a predetermined rookie wage scale, similar to NFL.  So players like Eddie Lacy and Giovani Bernard in leagues that didn’t tinker with the rookie draft in 2013 (remember that RSO is a very customizable platform), are locked up at low relative dollar amounts compared to players like Doug Martin, Ray Rice, and Lesean McCoy.  The NFL is a passing league and you have to try to find fantasy value over the long term in a league where running back committees are becoming more prevalent.  So be careful not to cut bait too early on someone with potential, but let the years, the contract amounts, your overall cap space relative to your league, and the quality of the free agent pool determine what your strategy is.  For instance, in my league, I may be entering the 2014 Free Agent Auction with zero running backs on my roster (disclaimer-in my league only 1 RB is mandatory to start on a 10 player starting lineup), but figure to have the cap space to address this gap as I am heading into my auction with 4 WRs locked up as well as all the other positions.

RB1

RB 2014 RSO Offseason

Trent Richardson

If you’re holding onto “Two Yard Trent” from picking him as the supposed bell-cow in Cleveland, you obviously have tempered expectations by now.  I would say heed the advice of Jason Mraz’ “I Won’t Give Up” on Richardson.  He now has had an offseason to learn the offense after being traded to Indy in Week 3 last year and will be given every opportunity to be the guy.  I know that you’re paying Richardson premium dollars for mediocre production, but he’s probably better than you’ll get on the free agent market in terms of talent, not necessarily price.  Stick it out for 2014 and if he lays another egg, when you have one season left on a 3 year deal in the 2015 offseason, send him packing.

Ray Rice

As an owner of Rice right now, are you more concerned by the potential suspension for his brush-up with the law, his 2013 production, the fact that the Ravens say they are bringing in another 1-2 running backs to help out, or all of the above?  The Ravens 2013 offensive philosophy didn’t stick to the run and the offensive line showed no ability to block and Rice showed no burst to get to the second level or even approach first downs, which may have been related to his hip flexor.  Throw out a good game against the Bears who everyone seemed to run on in 2013, and Rice’s stats are even less impressive.  Consider him to be the Sneaker Pimps 6 Underground, because Rice’s fantasy status is “open to falling from grace”.  If a 4 game suspension is announced prior to the season, get back 50% of your future salaries owed (especially at the 3 year $21m annual average).  I’d rather take the chance at making a run at another running back with the money.

David Wilson

While Wilson’s annual RSO average of 3.1 years and $10.7m annual average wasn’t overly intimidating when you got him last season, you certainly are concerned about his neck injury.  From what I’ve read the Giants would consider it a bonus if Wilson shows up healthy which GM Jerry Reese seems to indicate will be by training camp and it seems like Rashad Jennings is penciled in as the starter right now.  Consider the drafting of Heisman Finalist Andre Williams from Boston College to be more Wilson insurance and depth at this point.  While a healthy Wilson certainly offers more flash and upside (don’t forget he was in Tom Coughlin’s doghouse for most of the early season on fumbling and pass protection issues), you really have to pay attention to the offseason injury news and wait for the “Next Episode”.  Hold on as long as you can this offseason and if you get significant negative injury news, you probably don’t want to hold him for another two years.

Chris Johnson & Maurice Jones-Drew

Grouping these two together as fantasy studs of the past who are both on new teams.  I’m higher on Johnson’s chances with the Jets “Empire State of Mind” than MJD’s with the Raiders.  The thought of Johnson and Vick in the same backfield is kinda crazy speedwise and I think the Jets will be better at game-planning with Johnson and throwing him screens in space for your PPR friendly leagues.  MJD is going to a fantasy wasteland in Oakland and a crowded backfield with the oft-injured Darren McFadden and Latavius Murray.  If you have one year left at $12.6m, take Steve Miller’s advice and “Take The Money and Run”.

Lamar Miller

Now that the Dolphins have signed Knowshon Moreno and Miller couldn’t hold off someone in Daniel Thomas who one could say wasn’t even deserving of being on an NFL roster last season, it seems like the end is near for Miller.  Wouldn’t you rather have Lamar Latrell of “Revenge of the Nerds” fame over Miller?  At least his throwing style could result in some passing yards for your fantasy squad.  I’ve also read that the Dolphins are planning on being a pass heavy offense this season.  They still have an overhaul on their offensive line ahead from the Jonathan Martin bullying incident as well, which they’ve started in free agency and the draft.  I wouldn’t wait around for the 3rd year of Miller, as the only thing positive about his situation is that Miami didn’t draft a RB last week.  He’s too “Radioactive”.

Others Highlighted in Green

Be careful keeping high-priced handcuffs or backups.  Daryl Richardson has been cut by the Rams this week and while he may have held some value last offseason, if you still own him, send him packing.  In Bryce Brown’s case his only value would be if C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson are not re-signed after the 2014 season) to become valuable this season or down the line.  If you need the cap space, these type of guys may not get you that much money back, but are low hanging fruit and certainly debatable based on salary, production, or both.

Wide Receiver

Probably my favorite position to write about as there is talent at all price tags and these players are the easiest to justify long multi-year deals for based on how reliant teams are on their elite wideouts.  The lesson here is know when you are paying high dollars to someone who doesn’t deserve it and jump ship.  Also notice who is missing from here: Alshon Jeffery, who figures to be a RSO free agent in most leagues in 2014.

WR1

2014 WR RSO All Leagues

WR Chart-All RSO Leagues 2014 Offseason

Danny Amendola

People clearly expected Amendola to be the Wes Welker of the 2013 Patriots.  He clearly wasn’t as he couldn’t stay on the field long enough to be productive.  I can’t justify 2.5 years and $9.5m annual average salary for Amendola as Julian Edelman is the slot WR, Gronk will be back in play at some point and Aaron Dobson should improve.  Even if I’m wrong in hindsight to cut him, this is an easy to make, calculated risk and recently drafted 7th rounder Jeremy Gallon from Michigan is a player that can fit in to the Patriots scheme at Amendola’s expense.  “Drop ‘Em Like It’s Hot”.

Dwayne Bowe

Which Bowe do you have on your team?  The one who caught 8 for 150 and a TD in the playoff game vs. Indianapolis or the Bowe who had 57 catches on 105 targets for 673 yards and 5 TD’s in the 2013 Regular Season?  He’s still only 29 years old and does have a 15 TD season in his portfolio, but hasn’t had more than 5 TD’s in a season since, in spite of being the clear #1 WR on his team.  As a fantasy owner, can you really trust him in a game you have to win?  I can’t.  For those who have kids and were dragged to see Frozen, “Let It Go”.

Roddy White

I actually like Roddy White and think he could produce in 2014.  Call me “Mr. Brightside”.  It is a tough call at $11.3m though.  If all indications are that he’s healthy, you have to think that White will be seeing some of Tony Gonzalez’s looks and you have to think Atlanta will rebound in some fashion with ideally healthy Julio Jones and Steven Jackson.  Hakeem Nicks is another guy who I think could turn it around on a one-year prove it deal in Indy and at 2.8 avg. years and $9m, if he produces you’re looking at a good third year of the deal.  Hold both if you can.

Kenbrell Thompkins

Was a nice preseason story last year and made a few big plays early in the season.  Later in the season, he was abysmal.  Josh Boyce and Aaron Dobson are better options, as is free agent signing Brandon LaFell, so Thompkins may not even make the Patriots.  Cut him.

Tight End

Tight End is often a slighted position, so it could represent significant value for you in your RSO league.  On the flip side, the contract values are lower, so cutting a player may not yield that much cap savings.  It may also make for a less involved decision.    First off, for the 6 owners who still had Aaron Hernandez on their teams, my condolences.  Feel free to cut him.  Same goes for the 37 owners holding out hope that Tony Gonzalez wouldn’t retire after the 2013 season.

Tight End Chart-2014 RSO Offseason

Tight End Chart-All RSO Leagues 2014 Offseason

Jared Cook

His week 1 jauggernaut last year showed what Cook can do if given the looks.  He doesn’t seem particularly engaged for an entire game.  I could go either way on him.  I’d probably stick at 2.5 years and $3.1m average, even though he was the only Multi-Year player cut from my RSO league last season (on a team that does have some wealth at the TE position).

Owen Daniels

A productive TE for years who has battled health issues now returns to play under Gary Kubiak as OC in Baltimore.  However, he’s sharing again, this time with Dennis Pitta, who just got big dollars from the Ravens and are there enough balls for Torrey Smith, Steve Smith, and two TE’s?  I think you can do better than Daniels in a 10-12 team league, therefore, I’d say “Hit the Road Jack”.

Jermichael Finley

See David Wilson.  Finley may have a better shot to play, but his value really depends on what team signs him.  If Green Bay determines he’s fine and brings him back, even though they drafted a TE, definitely keep him.  Otherwise, like the Roots say “Proceed” with caution.

Coby Fleener

You’ll think I’m “Crazy” for my views on Fleener, but consider him the #4 receiving option behind T.Y. Hilton, Reggie Wayne, and Hakeem Nicks and he’s sharing with a now healthy and better all around player in Dwayne Allen.  I know he and Luck have history, but Fleener is very inconsistent.  I’d much rather have Zach Ertz than Fleener and some of the other players on this list.

Defense/Special Teams

If you are keeping a DST on a multi-year deal, make 100% certain that they will produce from year to year.  Defenses fluctuate based on offensive pace, special teams plays, yardage allowed and many other variables.  Heading into 2014, there are only a handful of DSTs you can be sure about and maybe another couple that you may like for future speculation purposes.  Seattle and San Francisco are definite keepers.   Houston, Chicago, Baltimore and Pittsburgh below are definitely not in that group to me, with Baltimore probably being the strongest of the bunch and Houston second based on all the young draft picks that will immediately bolster the pass rush.

If you are looking for a little cap room flexibility, think of dropping a DST.  Denver is interesting to potentially keep based on their free agent signings of Aqib Talib, DeMarcus Ware, and T.J. Ward and are definitely going for broke in 2014, although they did lose Trindon Holliday in the return game.  Don’t eliminate the possibility of taking advantage of the low dollar value Top 5 average to use your Franchise Tag on a DST, especially if the value is there if you don’t have a DST on a multi-year contract.

Defense/Special Teams-All RSO Leagues 2014 Offseason

Defense/Special Teams Chart-All RSO Leagues 2014 Offseason

Kicker

I’m shocked by the numbers of kickers kept in the table below.  Kicker performance is somewhat unpredictable as well, but I’m good with you keeping kickers like Stephen Gostkowski and Matt Prater.  I’d cut the guys highlighted in green-Garrett Hartley because he’s not likely to be on an NFL roster and the other two based on middling offenses and the fact that Blair Walsh is moving outside from the dome for the next two years and Caleb Sturgis $3.0m annual price tag is too much for a kicker, regardless of league.

K Chart- All RSO Leagues 2014 Offseason

K Chart- All RSO Leagues 2014 Offseason

I hope all this analysis is helpful to both experienced RSO owners and ones joining this unique platform for the 2014 season.  Feel free to follow me on Twitter via @mattgoody2 and I’d welcome any specific questions you have regarding your fantasy teams and feedback for future article topics as the offseason progresses.

Registration is now open for the 2014 RSO Fantasy Football Season! Learn more >>

RSO MockTalk: Top 60 Rookie Big Board

Updated: May 8th 2014

Draft Day has finally arrived! We have introduced the prospects and it is now time to reveal Version 1.0 of our RSO Rookie Big Board. Best and worst team fits have been assigned to the top 20 players, but don’t discount the RSO value to be found in the mid-to-late rounds.

1. Sammy Watkins, WO, Clemson

Watkins, a former HS track star, displays game-breaking speed and acceleration, which he uses to get open at all levels. Watkins is also electric when the ball in his hands. Anytime he touches it, there is a chance of a big play. With more route refinement and added strength, Watkins can become an unstoppable force at the next level. Pretty straightforward here: His talent resembles a Julio Jones-AJ Green hybrid. Hyperbole aside, Sammy Watkins is the clear cut #1 pick for RSO rookie drafts, unless your team is absolutely stacked at receiver.

NFL Draft Projection: Top 5
Best Fit: Browns
Worst Fit: Jaguars

2. Jeremy Hill, RB, LSU

The RB position certainly has been devalued at the top of recent drafts, but Jeremy Hill is ready to come in and help an NFL team right away. Major talent outweighs minor concerns in this case, so a pair of off the field incidents should not influence your RSO draft boards. The 235-pound Hill is the definition of a grinder, but for a big man he has quick feet through narrow space. He attacks the line of scrimmage and has enough lateral agility to make defenders miss in the hole and accelerate out into space. Former NFL head coach Cam Cameron, who coached LSU’s offense in 2013, believes the RB is one of the best he has coached. Cameron specifically praised Hill’s tenacity as a runner and pass protector, and the back’s soft hands as a receiver. Lastly, Hill has hardly any tread on his tires, entering the NFL after only two years as a primary back at LSU and without any serious injury history. Hill is an immediate goal line option, and RSO owners in need of a RB3/RB4 should take a hard look.

NFL Draft Projection: 2nd-3rd Round
Best Fit: Giants
Worst Fit: Titans

3. Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina

In all likelihood, Ebron will be the only first-rounder taken at his position. He is one of, if not the most dynamic draftable players,  He’s raw, but has potential to bring Vernon Davis-like versatility. In fact, Ebron is a fit for all 32 teams, which makes him a rare commodity. As a result, anticipation for a Tight End’s arrival in the league has not reached this level since the aforementioned Vernon Davis was drafted in 2006. Ebron’s explosiveness off the line pops to the naked eye, and it’s scary to think that the Tarheel has not yet filled out his 6’4, 250-pound frame. Scouts will continue to question his blocking ability until he proves he’s capable of holding his own in-line. Of course, such a role would be a secondary one for Ebron, regardless of where he winds up, seeing as he already has been labeled a next-level hybrid receiver. Smooth in and out of his breaks, with rare quickness and agility, Ebron projects as an elite RSO Tight End. Ebron has a chance to become a top 5 selection in every RSO draft.

NFL Draft Projection: Top 15
Best Fit: Falcons
Worst Fit: N/A

4. Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU

Beckham Jr. is an athlete who has the kind of versatility teams may try to trade up for. He will bring value both as a receiver (2,340 career yds) and in the return game (1,601 career yds). Experts have questioned whether his game speed will match up with his 4.43 track and field speed. Though, in actuality, Beckham merely stays compact in his movements, regardless of route, and he frequently exploits poor defensive angles. Long arms and leaping ability allow him to play bigger than he is, and OBJ has developed to the point where he is instinctively attacking the ball and adjusting to misthrows. A cerebral and hard-working kid who can fit any system. As of now, Beckham is a top 10 RSO pick with a high ceiling.

NFL Draft Projection: Top 20
Best Fit: Cardinals
Worst Fit: N/A

5. Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State

When the Steelers drafted Cooks’ Oregon State teammate Markus Wheaton last year, they did so anticipating Wheaton could replace Emmanuel Sanders in 2014. Unsurprisingly, Wheaton, in his second season, is expected to be a primary target for Big Ben. I foresee a similar path for Brandin Cooks. He looks poised to be drafted by an NFL contender and to do damage in his inaugural three years. Cooks, the 2013 Biletnikoff Award winner as the nation’s top receiver, led all Division I in receiving yards per game (133 ypg). Although his value will primarily come in the slot and as a FLEX option, Cooks’ 5’9” stature will not undermine promising versatility both on the outside and as a special teams contributor. This special athlete has the potential to be the best slot receiver prospect since Randall Cobb entered the league three years ago. Consequently, this Beaver should be a top RSO Draft pick.

NFL Draft Projection: 1st Round
Best Fit: Steelers
Worst Fit: Chiefs

6. Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M

Manziel has treated us to an exciting brand of football over the last two seasons. The question is whether that brand will endure inside NFL hash marks. His playmaking ability and party-going tendencies have been well documented. Ironically, his success at the next level rests entirely on him harnessing both.

Bigger, faster and more intuitive defenders will now test the athleticism and improvisation the Aggie used so freely in college. His pocket presence (if you can call it that) during his 2012 Heisman season often consisted of phantom pressure and subsequent scrambles. Yet he began to tighten up his core fundamentals at the position in 2013, and the statistics back it up:

  • 2012: 285 Pass ypg – 68.0 Comp% – 8.5 YPA – 26 TD – 155.3 Rating
  • 2013: 311 Pass ypg – 69.1 Comp% – 9.5 YPA – 33 TD – 170.4 Rating

It’s a trend the Aggie must sustain, as his slighter build will carry significantly more injury risk escaping NFL pockets. Critics wonder if he can lead a huddle, prepare off the field the way championship QBs must and execute without his safety blanket receiver Mike Evans. Although his tendencies on and off the field will continue to be magnified, a QB-needy team will find fortune behind this kid’s competitiveness. Johnny Football seems to always lift his game under the bright lights. If his improvements become instincts and his confidence fuels preparation, defensive coordinators will dread scheming for him. He embodies a high-risk, high-reward fantasy prospect, but Johnny Manziel is the QB most deserving of selection in 2014 RSO drafts.

NFL Draft Projection: 1st Round
Best Fit: Vikings
Worst Fit: Texans

7. Tre Mason, RB, Auburn

Not often do you hear an athlete’s name mentioned with Bo Jackson’s. Tre Mason had a monster junior campaign, breaking multiple single-season records previously held by Jackson. He smartly declared for the draft, taking advantage of a colossal postseason in the national spotlight. The only knocks on Mason are his size and hypothetical durability concerns. However, every-down backs are nearly extinct, so Mason’s physical shortcomings should not be overanalyzed. He has a running style that can succeed at the next level, due to his vision and ability to set up runs so well. It’s difficult not to love this decisive runner who sliced up SEC defenses and rarely takes a false step in the backfield. Mason was blessed with a low center of gravity and tremendous vision, priming him for a longer than expected NFL career. He could challenge for top RB off the board.

NFL Draft Projection: 2nd – 3rd Round
Best Fit: 49ers
Worst Fit: Rams

8. Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State

Watch Allen Robinson’s Penn State games and you’ll be blown away by his pure pass-catching skills. This soon-to-be rookie’s route stems need refinement, which will demand the attention of an NFL staff, but Robinson is chock-full of first round talent. To his benefit, he just finished off his second season playing for Bill O’Brien, the freshly crowned Houston Texans’ head coach. O’Brien’s former receiver uses prototypical size to his advantage, boxing out defenders and consistently catching the ball at its highest point. Not to mention, NFL teams covet receivers who can consistently beat press coverage. It is what often distinguishes a number one target from complementary options, and Allen Robinson is best among his peers at using his hands and explosion to break free at the line of scrimmage. He could be a second round steal in RSO drafts.

NFL Draft Projection: Late 1st – 2nd Round
Best Fit: Texans
Worst Fit: Redskins

9. Marqise Lee, WR, USC

There would be more buzz around Marquise Lee, had it not been for a re-aggravated knee injury in 2013. His slight frame and inconsistency against press coverage are two reasons he may escape the top 20 picks. The former Trojan must learn to be more assertive with his body position and hands when the ball is in flight, but Lee is a fluid athlete who can explode passed defenders effortlessly. I would be surprised if he slips by the Chiefs at pick twenty-three. Lee should not leak to the late stages of RSO drafts.

NFL Draft Projection: Mid 1st – 2nd Round
Best Fit: Colts
Worst Fit: Panthers

10. Ka’Deem Carey, RB, Arizona

Arizona’s workhorse padded his resume for scouts in 2013, averaging 156 yards per game (2nd in FBS). He displayed a physical streak when both cradling the ball and in space as a blocker. However, media sirens went off in February when Carey ran a pedestrian 4.62 forty at the combine. Two factors compensate for his lack of breakaway speed.

  • Professional defenses seldom allow backs to escape the second level. Only five backs (Forte, Spiller, McCoy, Murray, Peterson) had more than two (2) rushes of 40+ yards last year. Not one of those top backs eclipsed four (4) such runs.
  • Carey possesses one of the more underappreciated RB traits. He falls forward at the end of runs habitually with exceptional leg drive.

On the contrary, the Wildcat’s off-field history raises red flags. Since being crowned NCAA rushing champion in 2012, Carey has had three run-ins with the law. Notwithstanding, his willingness to pass protect and his ferocious style with the rock makes him a strong candidate to immediately contribute on the next level.

NFL Draft Projection: 3rd – 4th Round
Best Fit: Colts
Worst Fit: Bengals

11. Zach Mettenberger, QB, LSU

Mettenberger is a big sleeper in my book. Although he’s still developing, Mettenberger gained valuable experience in his final season at LSU playing under former NFL head coach & offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. He consistently made jaw-dropping throws look easy, many coming against SEC defenses. But he also occasionally loses control of his fastball. That said, bear in mind that Matthew Stafford has thrown 72 INTs in four healthy seasons as the Lions starter. No, Mettenberger does not possess the otherworldly arm strength Stafford does. But he certainly gets plenty of zip on his ball, and he, much like Stafford, trusts his arm for better or for worse. Detractors will point to his stellar offensive line and surplus of receivers to throw to at LSU. Much more of a concern is Mettenberger’s being a bit heavy-footed. Although not a great athlete, he navigated the pocket better in 2013 and showed a willingness to improve that area of his game. I’m higher on him than most, as Mettenberger is an underrated, strong-armed redshirt senior out of the premier college conference. He has the most upside in an overrated QB class; stash him on your RSO bench.

NFL Draft Projection: 2nd Round
Best Fit: Bears
Worst Fit: Titans

12. Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M

Evans appears to be the kind of multi-tooled, big receiver the NFL always covets. He has 4.5 speed at 6’5” and 231 pounds, can jump out of the gym, and he’s been productive in his two seasons as Johnny Manziel’s favorite target (147 rec, 2,427 yds, 17 tds). Past basketball experience shows up in his game as well – he’s exceptional at positioning his body between the defender and the ball, and he high points throws with strong, reliable hands.

With that said, he has limited playing experience, as the upcoming football season will be just the fourth of his entire career. Additionally, he was not asked to run a full route tree at Texas A&M and benefited from numerous broken plays engineered by Johnny Manziel. Scouts have subsequently questioned whether Evans will grasp his playbook and intricacies of his position.

More so for Evans than any receiver on the big board, RSO value depends on the jersey he holds up on draft day. The threat he poses in the red zone will move him up this list, especially if he winds up with Stafford in Detroit or Eli in New York.

NFL Draft Projection: Top 10
Best Fit: Lions
Worst Fit: Raiders

13. Bishop Sankey, RB, Washington

He has a similar skill set to Giovanni Bernard, the first RB selected in the 2013 draft, and Sankey’s combine performance slightly topped Bernard’s in every category. The Washington product forced scouts to go back to the tape after benching 225 pounds twenty-six times (second most among RBs at combine). However, that strength does not discernably present itself on tape. Sankey often struggles to run through arm tackles and finish runs. On the other hand, his best attributes pop on tape – evidence of above average patience, vision and durability. Like Bernard did, Sankey will bring an excellent pair of mitts to the league and projects as a decent 3rd down option for his team.

NFL Draft Projection: 3rd – 4th Round
Best Fit: Ravens
Worst Fit: Patriots

14. Carlos Hyde, RB, Ohio State

Hyde has a great sense for where the first down chains are, and his career average of 6.1 yards per carry proves it. Given most GMs and coaches are leaning toward not investing high in the running back position, they still are drawn to physical backs who can dish out punishment. He and Eddie Lacy entered the league with practically identical measurables and each runs with a chip on his shoulder. Conversely, Hyde is far more inconsistent than the top 2013 offensive rookie and does not possess the nimble feet Lacy boasts. Hyde should see goal-line work, which will boost his fantasy production, but his value really hinges on where he lands.

NFL Draft Projection: 2nd – 3rd Round
Best Fit: Dolphins
Worst Fit: Browns

15. Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville

Had he been eligible for the 2013 draft, Bridgewater may have been the top overall pick. Teddy’s third year at the helm of Louisville’s pro-style offense did him well, though. After he capped off a stellar junior season with a 447-yard, 3 TD thrashing of the Miami Hurricanes, Bridgewater looked poised to enter week one of 2014 as the most NFL-ready rookie QB. Despite recent murmurs that an Aaron Rodgers-esque draft day slide is on the horizon, it is worth mentioning that he has not played in a game since December. I tend to side with those who place more weight on Bridgewater’s 1,142 college throws, rather than those who suddenly reversed course after 65 pro day throws without pads and defenders. History has shown there is very little predictive value in pro days.

Perhaps Bridgewater would have been better off running and throwing at the combine, but still, it seems front offices, scouts and media pundits have used the additional two weeks before the NFL Draft to overanalyze certain prospects. Some of the overthinking is warranted; Teddy brings a worrisome injury history, has a smaller than average hand (hence, the glove on his throwing hand) and faced mediocre defenses in the American Athletic Conference. On the contrary, the hyperbole regarding his accuracy and composure is running amuck. He’s not as big as Andrew Luck, nor as dynamic as RGIII, but Bridgewater is smart, elusive in the pocket, accurate and mature. Block the white noise, because such attributes comprise a solid starting point for a rookie project. If he slips in the draft to a contender (with weapons in place), grab Bridgewater in RSO’s second round. Injuries are bound to strike…

NFL Draft Projection: 1st Round
Best Fit: Raiders
Worst Fit: N/A

16. Troy Niklas, TE, Notre Dame

Eric Ebron is head and shoulders above any other prospect in this group, and opinions vary on who heads the pack behind him. Troy Niklas was wise to leave school after his lone season as a full-time starter, considering he is the most complete player left on the board at his position. He is surprisingly refined in his route running and has sneaky athleticism at 270 pounds. Previous playing experience at linebacker, offensive guard and defensive tackle has converted the Irishman into an exceptional blocker. This alone will get him on an NFL field quickly. Additionally, following the Lions’ discovery of a red zone gem in undrafted Joseph Fauria last year, it is unlikely Niklas will slip too far in the draft. He measured just shy of Fauria’s height (6’7”) and is certainly more athletic. Niklas will eventually surpass his Irish predecessors Kyle Rudolph (’11) and Tyler Eifert (’13) in terms of RSO value, especially near the goal line.

NFL Draft Projection: Late 1st – Mid 2nd Round
Best Fit: Jets
Worst Fit: Chargers

17. Jarvis Landry, WR, LSU

Disclaimer: I am not an LSU fan. One would think otherwise though, as my belief in this Tiger class of Mettenberger, Jeremy Hill, Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry is evident. It will quickly make a dent in the NFL. Specifically, Landry and his running mate, Beckham Jr., have been close friends since enrolling together in 2011. Both receivers are intelligent and were greatly respected by coaches and teammates. It seems they are primed to succeed on the next level. There are shades of Anquan Boldin in Jarvis Landry’s physicality and shrewdness on third down. He excels as a blocker as well, another sign he’ll quickly pick up on defensive coverage schemes. Landry will establish a nice NFL career on football IQ. He is a strong sleeper pick in RSO Drafts.

NFL Draft Projection: 2nd – 3rd Round
Best Fit: Patriots
Worst Fit: Cowboys

18. Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington

An early season suspension and UW’s spread-the-wealth style stymied his production, but ASJ’s unique combination of size (6’5”+, 262lbs) and athleticism fits the mold in today’s NFL. A nightmare in the red zone or when split out wide, Seferian-Jenkins could prove to be a reliable three-down player. That possibility is left to his blocking, a skill he can pick up with his physical tools, but one that necessitates a certain brand of consistency and aggression. Those are two areas that preclude ASJ from wearing the ‘most complete TE in the draft’ crown.

NFL Draft Projection: 2nd Round
Best Fit: Seahawks
Worst Fit: Lions

19. Terrance West, RB, Towson

West has prototypical size for the position, and he plays closer to 6’0” than his 5’9” build lets on. That must be taken with a grain of salt though, since physicality is difficult to gauge at such a low level of competition, and because he didn’t necessarily open eyes at combine testing. That said, West made things look easy on the lower FCS level, as evidenced by his stellar career numbers (punctuated by his 2509 yards and 41 TDs in 2013), and his stock will definitely rise if drafted by a zone blocking team or by one who feeds off power runners. The Towson product will undoubtedly bring an all-business attitude to whichever franchise takes a shot on him, and thus, his value is tied to what kind of grooming he receives early in his career. He’ll have to learn a lot very quickly in the passing game – both as a receiver and pass protector. West is a project who may sit at #3 on an NFL depth chart in 2014, but is a name RSO owners should know.

NFL Draft Projection: 4th – 5th Round
Best Fit: Titans/Falcons
Worst Fit: N/A

20. Cody Latimer, WR, Indiana

West has prototypical size for the position, and he plays closer to 6’0” than his 5’9” build lets on. That must be taken with a grain of salt though, since physicality is difficult to gauge at such a low level of competition, and because he didn’t necessarily open eyes at combine testing. That said, West made things look easy on the lower FCS level, as evidenced by his stellar career numbers (punctuated by his 2509 yards and 41 TDs in 2013), and his stock will definitely rise if drafted by a zone blocking team or by one who feeds off power runners. The Towson product will undoubtedly bring an all-business attitude to whichever franchise takes a shot on him, and thus, his value is tied to what kind of grooming he receives early in his career. He’ll have to learn a lot very quickly in the passing game – both as a receiver and pass protector. West is a project who may sit at #3 on an NFL depth chart in 2014, but is a name RSO owners should know.

NFL Draft Projection: Late 1st – 2nd Round
Best Fit: Eagles
Worst Fit: Jets

21. Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech

Amaro drastically improved his ball skills in his junior season. He showed he’s dangerous after the catch as well, racking up a yardage total (1,352) that ranked him first among NCAA tight ends and eleventh among all receivers. However, he’ll be leaving Kliff Kingsbury’s pass-happy offense and will have to prove he can match the physicality of NFL linebackers. Amaro struggles blocking and won’t stay on the field if he doesn’t bulk up. Due to the yearning for mismatch tight ends around the league, Amaro’s name has been forced into more and more conversations. He does have the size and fluidity to be used interchangeably within an offense, and the Red Raider has a unique ability to find the soft spot in coverage. Still, he is rather one-dimensional, which limits his short-term RSO value.

22. Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State

Ever since snatching the game-winning TD pass in the BCS National Championship game, Kelvin Benjamin’s stock has been inflated by the media. Successful receivers who weigh in north of 235 pounds do not exist in the NFL. It’s a given he will not elude many defenders in the open field, and he relies on his physicality and ball skills too often. Although those skills may immediately thrust him into a red zone role, he must find other means to separate from defenders. His terrorizing size and potential (even if it’s at tight end) will be tough to pass on, but RSO owners will encounter week-to-week inconsistency.

23. Storm Johnson, RB, UCF

A popular sleeper pick, Storm Johnson ended his collegiate career in the shadow of his UCF teammate QB Blake Bortles. Yet, when watching him run, it’s evident why Johnson was a top recruit of the Miami Hurricanes a few years ago. Although unique in running style and stature, he stays low to the ground, he’s a physical runner, and his vision and anticipation in the open field nicely complement his change of direction skill, especially for a big back (6’0”, 215 lbs.). When at UCF, defenders seemed to bounce off Johnson in space, but his rawness presented itself when in tight space. He missed gaping holes and bounced runs outside too frequently, was prone to fumbling and was exposed in pass protection. His dual-threat success at the college level should serve him well as he attempts to carve a role in the NFL. He is not a burner, but Johnson projects as a top second-tier back in this class.

24. Blake Bortles, QB, UCF

It’s not difficult to draw a physical comparison to Blaine Gabbert:

  • Gabbert (2011): 6’4 – 234lbs – 33” arms – 10” hands – 33.5” Vert jump
  • Bortles (2014): 6’5 – 232lbs – 32⅞” arms – 9⅜” hands – 32.5” Vert jump

Similar pre-draft criticisms have emerged as well:

  • Only 2 years of starting experience
  • Underwhelming accuracy throwing deep
  • Must transition to snaps under center and deep drops in the pocket (both QBs primarily worked out of Shotgun in college)
  • Plummeting completion percentages in third down and red zone situations

I’m of the belief that Gabbert was dealt a shoddy hand in Jacksonville. Nevertheless, the former 10th overall pick was not ready to lead an NFL offense. Neither is Blake Bortles … yet. NFL personnel hoped to see a quicker release and refined footwork out of Bortles going into UCF’s Pro Day. He checked both those boxes in front of scouts and has since risen up many draft boards. Additionally, leading a mid-major program to an undefeated road record and a BCS bowl win, albeit against a porous Baylor defense, is nothing to scoff at. Based on his size and upside, Bortles may stick in the NFL longer than any QB in this year’s class. However, simply put, two-year starters out of non-BCS conferences have not been legitimate contributors on fantasy squads in recent years. Don’t bank on Bortles as a short-term RSO option, but his value will ultimately be determined by his draft position in May.

25. Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt

There could be ten receivers taken in the NFL Draft before the first senior WR hears his name called. Although underclassmen will dominate the early rounds, Jordan Matthews deserves to be this high on this list after ending his career as the SEC’s all-time leader in receptions (262) and receiving yards (3,759). He doesn’t have the nasty streak you’d like to see from a big man (6’3”, 212 lbs) and is not exactly explosive, but Matthews’ long arms (33 ¼”), whopping hands (10 ⅜”), strength (21 bench reps) and four years of college experience will allow him to stick around in the league. Count on this Vanderbilt product to be a more reliable receiver than analysts are giving him credit for. RSO owners should reevaluate his value when free agency opens.

26. Paul Richardson, WR, Colorado

This kid flat out flew at the combine. More importantly, this kid flies in pads. His college QB was awful, but Richardson will bring a different dimension to most NFL teams as they stand. One NFL scout told Mike Klis of the Denver Post that Richardson “has first-round speed and athleticism, second-round hands and fifth-round weight.” He comes in at 175 lbs., so Richardson must bulk up not only to win battles on the outside, but also to protect his lean frame moving east and west. Is inconsistency also an issue? Yes, but there is more to like than not here. First, I love that Richardson was a team captain. While some may consider this fact a minute tidbit, it is one that professional teams weigh quite heavily. He also habitually attacked the football, contributing three productive seasons at Colorado, despite some awful QB play. Lastly, his father played receiver for three teams in the NFL and Paul brings a bit of that swagger you like to see in receivers. He is one of many undersized receivers in this class to keep a vigilant eye on.

27. Donte Moncrief, WR, Ole Miss

Ole Miss did not challenge Moncrief with a full route tree, and on the whole, Moncrief’s physical gifts negated any need to do so. I can understand why NFL teams may be hesitant to roll with this kid as their first rounder. His hands are erratic and a glaring lack of polish counteracts some of the buzz around his combine workout. Still, it was there that he validated the label some had assigned him as this class’ most explosive receiver, running the third-fastest forty (4.40) among receivers and jumping out of his shoes with a 39.5” vertical (3rd highest among WR) and 11” broad jump (highest among WR). Oh, and this 20-year old workout warrior is an absolute tank. Somehow he’s under the radar and Moncrief could find himself in a very advantageous situation with a contender. As an example, the Colts have reportedly been showing interest. If the former Rebel ends up playing home games in the same building that housed his phenomenal combine, Moncrief is an automatic RSO pick – Drops will taper off when Andrew Luck is pinpointing.

28. Martavis Bryant, WR, Clemson

Bryant finally got his shot to start in 2013, his third season at Clemson, but sitting behind Sammy Watkins on the depth chart inhibited any opportunity to shine. Bryant has also been overshadowed somewhat by Watkins in the pre-draft process. Though not as talented as his former counterpart, Bryant’s size and speed (6’4”, 211 lbs.) make him an intriguing prospect. Additionally, his enormous average of 22.2 yards per catch at Clemson makes one think he is capable of stretching the field for an NFL receiving corps. However, the receiver will have to add muscle on his long frame and must prove he can consistently secure the football away from his body. Be mindful that Bryant is more of a project than some other WR prospects, so he’ll most likely be available in RSO second rounds.

29. Lache Seastrunk, RB, Baylor

This speedy back could not break into Oregon’s 2010 rotation, as he sat behind LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner on the depth chart. Two years later, Lache Seatrunk finally erupted in Baylor’s dynamic offense. He got his first collegiate start midway through 2012, following his team’s fourth straight loss. The Bears went on to win 12 of their next 13 games. Seastrunk averaged a crazy 9.9 yards per carry over that span and scored three touchdowns in the sole loss. The Oregon transfer has breakaway speed and rare elusiveness, but also has an uphill battle to see game action at the next level. He didn’t catch a pass all season and is limited in pass protection, two qualities necessary to gain NFL coaches’ trust.

30. Andre Williams, RB, Boston College

Williams may have difficulty facing faster and smarter defensive fronts. He acquired four years of experience at Boston College and has a clean record off the field. His production and intelligence lowers his risk as a prospect, but the nation’s 2013 rushing champion (2,177 yards) must show he can be a more dependable pass catcher and tighten up his footwork behind the line of scrimmage.

31. Davante Adams, WR, Fresno State

Davante Adams is powerfully built for his size and still has room to grow into his 21-year old, third-year sophomore body. His 131 catches and 1,719 yards in 2013 ranked first and second in the FBS, respectively. Those statistics are not particularly persuasive though, significantly inflated by quick throws and bubble screens from a top QB prospect at Fresno State. Scouts must predict how phenomenal workouts from guys like Adams and Donte Moncrief will translate. Adams showed explosiveness in his vertical and broad jumps at the combine, but a stiff running style could cause him to struggle separating from quick-twitch NFL cornerbacks.

32. Jimmy Garoppolo, QB, Eastern Illinois

Garropollo has a lightning quick release, but the Eastern Illinois Panther is the biggest long shot among QBs projected to go in the first three rounds. With that said, Tony Romo was once an Eastern Illinois Panther with decent upside and a quick release…

33. C.J. Fiedorowicz, TE, Iowa

Three solid signs here:

  • Iowa has constantly been strong at TE over the last ten years, producing NFL starters Dallas Clark, Scott Chandler, Tony Moeaki and Brandon  Myers.
  • Fiedorowicz utilizes his tremendous 6’6”, 265-pound frame well on routes, which makes up for his average explosiveness.
  • It’s difficult to ignore the similarities between Fiedorowicz and the brute tight end up in New England, Rob Gronkowski.

A few negatives? It does take the Iowa product extra time to get to full speed, and when he does, that speed is anything but superior. He often seems to be playing too fast for his own good – His ability to separate from linebackers and safeties will be challenged, and if he doesn’t become more disciplined, mistimed routes and incompletions will overshadow any clean releases off the line. With that said, due to a safe and projectable skillset, Fiedorowicz could move up the RSO Big Board, depending on what NFL city he ends up in.

34. Bruce Ellington, WR, South Carolina

This is a guy who’ll definitely go earlier than expected this week. Once fans get a glimpse of his background, they may immediately flag Ellington for their RSO watch lists. Formerly a high school state championship QB, Ellington enrolled at South Carolina in 2010, went on to start 66 games at point guard for the Gamecocks’ basketball team, racked up over 1500 yards on the gridiron and managed to graduate in three and a half years.
Toughness has not been much mentioned amongst this group of wide receivers. Ellington fits that bill, though. He’ll frequently absorb shots from defenders in order to bail his QB out, and when asked to do so, Ellington usually creates enormous separation for himself on deeper routes. Character in not an issue, as the small playmaker is engaging and mature, but factors that may prevent his being an RSO pick include his lack of natural football instincts and prevailing questions regarding his commitment to the game. Bruce may not be picked in many RSO drafts, but his cousin, Andre Ellington of the Arizona Cardinals, sure showed last year that this family has NFL-worthy genes.

35. Devonta Freeman, RB, Florida State

Freeman is a hot name at the RB position right now. He was the most consistent back in the BCS Champions’ crowded, talented backfield, leading it in rushing yards and TDs. Additionally, the power he displayed last year as a true junior makes one think he could see some snaps in 2014. However, I can envision Freeman flashing briefly as a rookie, only to then disappoint overzealous RSO owners. The combination of his soft hands in the passing game and aforementioned consistency could yield long-term production. At this point, though, don’t jump the gun and take a wait-and-see approach on Freeman.

36. Colt Lyerla, TE, Oregon

Lyerla was one of the top tight ends in college football before his mysterious departure from Oregon’s program. Following an arrest in October, there are huge questions about Lyerla’s ability to handle the pro lifestyle. Although the biggest risk-reward prospect in the entire draft, Lyerla has been clocked in the 4.5-second range in the 40-yard dash, jumps out of the gym and could thrive with the right organization.

37. Marion Grice, RB, Arizona State

This junior college transfer may have had the softest hands in college football last year and, over two seasons at Arizona State, demonstrated a knack for finding the end zone. His potential to become a top multi-threat in this draft class has been underreported. Although there is opportunity in today’s NFL to make a career as a shifty pass catcher out of the backfield, Grice is taller and less explosive than a Sproles, Woodhead or Vereen. The former Sun Devil runs at 6’0” and a lean 208 pounds and I don’t foresee development as a north-south yardage eater. It’d be harsh to call Grice soft, but if called upon to soon, he will be overpowered by NFL fronts. Production out of a third down-utility role, in all likelihood, represents Grice’s ceiling. Still, keep an eye on the system he ends up in. If penciled into such a role with the Saints, Packers or Steelers, he could make for an intriguing RSO bench option.

38. A.J. McCarron, QB, Alabama

If drafted by a contender, the 3-time national champion may become a viable backup option in free agency. One prevalent philosophy in league circles is that, in recent years, former Crimson Tide players have entered the league overworked. McCarron will not follow suit though, as coach Nick Saban has leaned heavily on his running game during McCarron’s stint. On top of that, he is just flat out better than the John Parker Wilsons and Greg McElroys of the world. A.J. may never be as famous as his gorgeous fiancée, but he’ll stick around in the NFL merely on intangibles.

39. Kevin Norwood, WR, Alabama

Because he is an underrated WR who is dependable, reliable, and shows up in key situations, Kevin Norwood jumps quite a few receivers on this list. Even though Alabama didn’t have a traditional #1 WR, Norwood developed into A.J. McCarron’s most trusted weapon. He’s a good route runner and understands how to get open with just enough height and speed to succeed at the NFL level. While his ceiling is more limited than other receivers in the draft, he shows the high football IQ and route running technique to be a long-term NFL pro

40. Brandon Coleman, WR, Rutgers

Brandon Coleman jumps into the Top 60 as one of the most physically gifted receivers in the draft. There just aren’t many football players that are 6’6″ 225 and even fewer that can run a 4.56 forty. Coleman presents so many mismatches with his natural size and length. He possesses deceptive long speed with powerful strides that can cover a lot of ground. Coleman can win vertically and get over the top, creating huge plays at Rutgers averaging over 19.0 yards/reception in his career. Loads of upside and potential, Coleman most certainly needs some polish to contribute.

41. Tom Savage, QB, Pittsburgh

Savage has been compared to Troy Aikman, John Elway and Joe Flacco. Yet only recently have we seen his name fly up draft boards, deviating from a communal late round grade. Something doesn’t add up. He probably will go higher than I expect, as many head coaches and offensive coordinators overrate their own ability to develop tall, strong-armed QBs. Coincidentally, those coaching staffs, more often than not, snub experience for potential. My message for those teams: This isn’t the NBA Draft.

42. Jeff Janis, WR, Saginaw Valley State

At 6’3” and 219 lbs., this Division II prospect opened eyes at the combine with a 40-time of 4.42, twenty reps on the bench and exceptional leaping ability. Rarely does a lower level prospect make waves with workout numbers. Accordingly, Jeff Janis’ measurable may look great on paper, but I’m skeptical they will be sufficient for him to keep up with the big boys. Janis is built to play outside the numbers, but the size and speed he exhibited without pads does not show up in game film. In addition, one red flag coming out of the NFL showcase was Janis’ hand size. He will unquestionably be prone to drops with 9” hands, the smallest set among receivers over six feet. Saginaw Valley State’s two-sport stud put up ridiculous numbers this Spring, but he’ll have to become much more technically sound to prosper as an NFL project pick.

43. Henry Josey, RB, Missouri

Regardless of where he lands in the draft, Henry Josey is one underclassman safe from criticism for leaving school too early. Josey took a medical redshirt in 2012 to recover from a significant knee injury suffered in the late stages of the previous season – a knee injury the team doctor called “a tragic fluke, a one-in-a-million type.” Nevertheless, the kid overcame the psychological and (obvious) physical components of his recovery brilliantly, piling up 1,166 yards and 16 TDs on the ground in his final season. If that comeback season was not enough of an indication, Josey’s 4.43 forty-time (third fastest) at the combine confirmed he is healthy. However, Josey does expose himself too often and must learn to protect himself a la Wes Welker. No other red flags here, but Josey must prove his worth as a 5’8” speed back in a league that’s getting bigger and stronger by the day. RSO watch list nominee.

44. Charles Sims, RB, West Virginia

Sims’s size and catching ability project well to the NFL. It is still a mystery why Sims transferred from the University of Houston with one year of eligibility remaining, but consistency against stronger Big 12 competition boosts his stock. The fifth-year senior doesn’t excel or lack in any given area, but his ball security and willingness to play through nagging injuries has been questioned.

45. Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia

Although Murray inherited a luxury on the outside in A.J. Green, his true freshman season lived up to the hype that follows top high school QB recruits. I came away from his first year having never been so high on a young QB. If he had avoided a torn ACL amidst a solid senior campaign, Murray would have been in the early round mix. In order to succeed, he must exhibit the tenacity and touch of successful, height-deprived QBs (Russell Wilson, Drew Brees). This is another case of a 4-year SEC player getting no love. I can see him moving up this board. If he doesn’t hear his name called until Day 3, one NFL team will come out smiling with a steal.

46. Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State

First round chatter surged after his Senior Bowl week performance, tapered off around the Combine and is suddenly ramping back up as we approach draft day. I’m skeptical. If you believe in bloodlines, Carr is a prospect whose weaknesses will ultimately outshine his upside. He comes from a system offense at Fresno State and threw too many screens and quick out routes for his own good. The phrase ‘natural thrower’ is constantly used to describe Derek Carr. Therefore, if he is scooped up by a team & coach combination such as the Vikings (OC Norv Turner), Chiefs (Andy Reid) or Cardinals (Arians/Tom Moore), we will have to reevaluate his RSO stock.

47. Richard Rodgers, TE, California

At Cal he bounced between WR and TE. He may be able to use his experience as a tight end to catch the ball in tight space, but he operated best in the slot in college. More so than the other third-tier guys on this list, Rodgers could leverage his size, length and mobility to slip behind linebackers and become a decent scoring threat. There is a lot of boom-or-bust potential here. Rodgers could be a legit receiving option by the time his RSO rookie contract expires. On the other hand, the Cal hybrid’s fallibility in the blocking game and blatant lack of refinement could hold him down in practice squad limbo.

48. Jared Abbrederis, WR, Wisconsin

He walked on at Wisconsin, impressed enough to earn a scholarship and finished his career as the school’s all-time reception leader (202). That career was jumpstarted by the opportunity to catch passes from Russell Wilson in 2011, after which Abbrederis did not relinquish his starting job. He progressed steadily in each of his five seasons, ultimately flourishing during his senior campaign. The repertoire of double moves he featured this past season made many of the nation’s top cornerbacks look pedestrian. All in all, Abrrederis’s hands and smarts could thrust him into a 3rd or 4th receiver spot on a depth chart. Still, due to his slim build, modest measurables and concussion history, he lands well outside RSO draft parameters.

49. Robert Herron, WR, Wyoming

Herron faced a tough upbringing, bouncing around from home to home and was homeless when he was 14. He’s a tough kid on and off the field who shows intriguing developmental potential. He had a very solid Senior Bowl week, consistently beating man coverage and escaping press at the line. Herron is small, lacks refinement, and played against low level of competition, but his quick feet and acceleration carry high upside.

50. David Fales, QB, San Jose State

Fales is a rhythm passer who can’t drive the ball downfield without using his entire body. Although he manages to get decent touch on the bulk of his short and intermediate throws, major inconsistencies popped up in his second year at San Jose State. Despite completion percentage being a mainstream and usually misleading statistic, Fales’ drop in accuracy from 73% to 64% is a massive red flag. Mainly because he is not an elite athlete, spent time on four different campuses (including junior college) in his collegiate career, and lacks big game experience. Nevertheless, if he winds up in an offense with west coast principles, keep an eye on Fales. There will be opportunity for the projected late round pick to leverage his poise and other palpable intangibles into a respectable career, as Tom Brady did. In fact, his throwing motion and ball placement look eerily similar to the New England signal caller.

51. Isaiah Crowell, RB, Alabama State

Small school guys rarely get second opportunities in the NFL, meaning it’s essential for Isaiah Crowell to make the most of his first. Come May, one NFL team will take a shot on this RB, in spite of several red flags he bears. Issues regarding his coachability, or lack thereof, first cropped up in his initial collegiate stint at the University of Georgia. Crowell did little to repair that image at Alabama State, as problems involving work ethic and mental toughness persisted. Moreover, he failed to consistently dominate inferior competition, a usual prerequisite for draftable prospects (especially those with red flags) out of small schools. Onto a few positives – Crowell often makes the first defender miss and habitually racks up yards after that first contact. Additionally, one will be impressed when watching his lateral movement on tape. On the other hand, a few of those red flags are noticeable on the field. At times he displays horrible body language and seemingly is out there just going through the motions. Crowell makes this list based on pure raw talent, since he did show flashes of brilliance against SEC defenses in 2011.

52. Shaquelle Evans, WR, UCLA

Shaq Evans plays faster than his 4.51 forty time from the combine would suggest, but I would advise against trusting his 4.32 pro day mark. Six different Bruins, some of whom will not be drafted, clocked sub-4.40 runs on UCLA’s fast track. On a similar note, press coverage on Evans would worry me a bit, as he takes a few steps to get to top speed. Nonetheless, he is built like a strong safety who could employ some physicality against undersized corners. If he can control the line of scrimmage, his long strides and relatively large catch radius could make Evans an under-the-radar deep threat. On the flip side, I cringe when hearing of a first-year player transferring for no apparent reason of significance. Occasionally an indication of such prospects’ mental toughness, Evans’ transfer from Notre Dame is worth noting. Bottom line: Shaq’s technique will render itself useful, but if he wants to hang around on the next level, he’ll need to unveil some sticky fingers in traffic.

53. Xavier Grimble, TE, USC

Despite being overshadowed by teammate Marquise Lee, splitting playing time with a talented crop of USC tight ends and enduring a rocky coaching change, Xavier Grimble could prove to be a solid NFL starter. He has the prototypical NFL Tight End build, but when any questions are raised around a player’s durability or dedication, it is alarming. He checked very few boxes in the pre-draft process too, performing terribly at the combine and exhibiting very little polish at his pro day. I still think he is one of the few sleepers in this Tight End class, and the former #1 recruit at his position reminds me of Colts TE Dwayne Allen.

54. Dri Archer, RB, Kent State

Not only did he run a blazing 4.26 forty at the combine, falling just short of Chris Johnson’s 4.24 effort in 2008, but the Kent St. product also measured like a track star in Indy. In fact, he was the smallest running back there at 5’7” and 173 pounds. Bearing that in mind, it seems curious that some scouts have Archer ranked as a wide receiver. The speedster will have to dramatically improve his ball skills to be a dual threat whom a team can move around. Based on his special teams value, he could be a Day 2 surprise pick. For RSO purposes though, Archer probably won’t get a look unless injuries stack up.

55. Keith Wenning, QB, Ball State

Wenning showed steady improvement under center each year at Ball State; 1,300 yards and 14 touchdowns as a freshman, 2,700 yards and 19 touchdowns as a sophomore, 3,000 yards and 24 touchdowns as a junior, and an impressive 4,198 yards and 35 touchdowns against just seven interceptions his senior season. Along with having physical tools that fit the NFL mold, Wenning will bring an intellect, football IQ and character any team would welcome. Yet, he worked almost exclusively out of shotgun and wasn’t facing the cream of college talent in the MAC. Keep in mind that Wenning’s name is now alongside Byron Leftwich’s and Ben Roethlisberger’s in MAC conference record books. Pretty solid company, so his impending team’s depth chart situation should be monitored this August.

56. Arthur Lynch, TE, Georgia

I’ve previously mentioned a conceivable correlation between first-year transfers and a lack of mental toughness. Well, Arthur Lynch contemplated transferring but stuck with Georgia’s program and started 24 of Georgia’s last 26 games. Once he secured the starting tight end spot, Lynch made an impact. Since the tight end is capable of reaching outside his frame for the ball and can work the underneath routes well, he was an important safety net for QB Aaron Murray. Although you won’t be awestruck by 56 career catches on paper, most of those came in traffic and in the short-to-intermediate area. He was also asked to use his power as a blocker more often than not, so Lynch was frequently running altered routes. While he is an intriguing prospect who subtly set up college defenders with strength and body control, Arthur Lynch has underwhelming athleticism, raising doubt about short-term RSO value.

57. Matt Hazel, WR, Coastal Carolina

In a class full of studs, Matt Hazel squeaks onto this list, based on numbers. He left Coastal Carolina as the school’s all-time reception leader, long dominating the Big South with tremendous body control and strong hands. However, he will have trouble separating from the elite talent coming his way, and he can’t afford to carry over a tendency to break focus. Do I see an elite skillset? No. Do I see a consistent one? Yes. Matt Hazel’s ceiling falls in the class of a James Jones, formerly of the Green Bay Packers.

58. Crockett Gillmore, TE, Colorado State

NFL teams will find more use out of Crockett Gillmore than RSO owners will. The Colorado State tight end projects only as a situational in-line blocker, at this point. Actually, Gillmore has the ideal frame for teams seeking a tight end to help in the trenches. Height (6’6”), length (33 ¾” arms & 10 ⅜” hands) and a quick first step is a recipe for some early playing time as a #2 tight end. He’ll win at the line of scrimmage predominantly on positioning, but will need to bulk up to consistently do so against NFL linemen. Gillmore makes this list because he could block his way onto the field, and, for our purposes, opportunity to play is a massive factor in a tight end’s initial value. It’s worth mentioning that this native Texan has the catch radius, burst and huge hands to potentially stretch the seam and beat linebackers. He would be a late bloomer as a receiver though, as his route running is substandard and he is anything but smooth.

59. De’Anthony Thomas, RB, Oregon

The most electric (and smallest statured) player on the big board has very little short-term upside in fantasy. His production and durability dropped each of his three seasons at Oregon, cementing his ceiling as a complementary NFL player.

60. Connor Shaw, QB, South Carolina

Well, you can’t claim Connor Shaw doesn’t know how to win ballgames. He finished his career as the winningest QB in South Carolina history (27-5). Coaches and Gamecock supporters have repetitively commended both his leadership and football savvy, but it’s far-fetched to think the oft-scrambling QB will be selected before the sixth or seventh round. That’s not to say Shaw will not get a fair shot to impress when training camp rolls around. Even more, he surrendered only one interception all of last season (on 284 pass attempts). Smells like a quality backup to me, but his height (6’0”), arm strength and happy feet in the pocket should stymie further optimism.

Rookie Draft Preview: Tight Ends

Updated: May 7th 2014

Our positional breakdown caps off with Tight Ends. The below list of prospects cannot be considered the deepest group of the 2014 Draft, but this position carries the smallest margin of error for RSO owners. Bottom line? Study up!

1. Eric Ebron, North Carolina

In all likelihood, Ebron will be the only first-rounder taken at his position. He is one of, if not the most dynamic draftable players. He’s raw, but has potential to bring Vernon Davis-like versatility. In fact, anticipation for a Tight End’s arrival in the league has not reached this level since Vernon was drafted in 2006. Ebron’s explosiveness off the line pops to the naked eye, and it’s scary to think that the Tarheel has not yet filled out his 6’4, 250-pound frame. Scouts will continue to question his blocking ability until he proves he’s capable of holding his own in-line. Of course, such a role would be a secondary one for Ebron in most offenses, seeing as he already has been labeled a next-level hybrid receiver. Smooth in and out of his breaks with rare quickness and agility, Ebron projects as an elite RSO Tight End. He’s a lock to go in the top 3 in RSO drafts.

2. Troy Niklas, Notre Dame

Eric Ebron is head and shoulders above any other prospect in this group, and opinions vary on who heads the pack behind him. Troy Niklas was wise to leave school after his lone season as a full-time starter, considering he is the most complete player left on the board at his position. He is surprisingly refined in his route running and has sneaky athleticism at 270 pounds. Previous playing experience at linebacker, offensive guard and defensive tackle has converted the Irishman into an exceptional blocker. This alone will get him on an NFL field quickly. Additionally, following the Lions’ discovery of a red zone gem in undrafted Joseph Fauria last year, it is unlikely Niklas will slip too far in the draft. He measured just shy of Fauria’s height (6’7”) and is certainly more athletic. Niklas will eventually surpass his Irish predecessors Kyle Rudolph (’11) and Tyler Eifert (’13) in terms of RSO value, especially near the goal line.

3. Jace Amaro, Texas Tech

Amaro drastically improved his ball skills in his junior season. He showed he’s dangerous after the catch as well, racking up a yardage total (1,352) that ranked him first among NCAA tight ends and eleventh among all receivers. However, he’ll be leaving Kliff Kingsbury’s pass-happy offense and will have to prove he can match the physicality of NFL linebackers. Amaro struggles blocking and won’t stay on the field if he doesn’t bulk up. Due to the yearning for mismatch tight ends around the league, Amaro’s name has been forced into more and more conversations. He does have the size and fluidity to be used interchangeably within an offense, and the Red Raider has a unique ability to find the soft spot in coverage. Still, he is rather one-dimensional, which limits his short-term RSO value.

4. Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Washington

An early season suspension and UW’s spread-the-wealth style stymied his production, but ASJ’s unique combination of size (6’5”+, 262lbs) and athleticism fits the mold in today’s NFL. A nightmare in the red zone or when split out wide, Seferian-Jenkins could prove to be a reliable three-down player. That possibility is left to his blocking, a skill he can pick up with his physical tools, but one that necessitates a certain brand of consistency and aggression. Those are two areas that preclude ASJ from wearing the ‘most complete TE in the draft’ crown.

5. C.J. Fiedorowicz, Iowa

Three solid signs for the lone senior on our list:

  • Iowa has constantly been strong at TE over the last ten years, producing NFL starters Dallas Clark, Scott Chandler, Tony Moeaki and Brandon  Myers.
  • Fiedorowicz utilizes his tremendous 6’6”, 265-pound frame well on routes, which makes up for his average explosiveness.
  • It’s difficult to ignore the similarities between Fiedorowicz and the brute tight end up in New England, Rob Gronkowski.

A few negatives? It does take the Iowa product extra time to get to full speed, and when he does, that speed is anything but superior. He often seems to be playing too fast for his own good – His ability to separate from linebackers and safeties will be challenged, and if he doesn’t become more disciplined, mistimed routes and incompletions will overshadow any clean releases off the line. With that said, due to a safe and projectable skillset, Fiedorowicz could move up the RSO Big Board, depending on what NFL city he ends up in.

6. Colt Lyerla, Oregon

Lyerla was one of the top tight ends in college football before his mysterious departure from Oregon’s program. Following an arrest in October, there are huge questions about Lyerla’s ability to handle the pro lifestyle. Although the biggest risk-reward prospect in the entire draft, Lyerla has been clocked in the 4.5-second range in the 40-yard dash, jumps out of the gym and could thrive with the right organization.

7. Richard Rodgers, California

At Cal he bounced between WR and TE. He may be able to use his experience as a tight end to catch the ball in tight space, but he operated best in the slot in college. More so than the other third-tier guys on this list, Rodgers could leverage his size, length and mobility to slip behind linebackers and become a decent scoring threat. There is a lot of boom-or-bust potential here. Rodgers could be a legit receiving option by the time his RSO rookie contract expires. On the other hand, the Cal hybrid’s fallibility in the blocking game and blatant lack of refinement could hold him down in practice squad limbo.

8. Xavier Grimble, USC

Despite being overshadowed by teammate Marquise Lee, splitting playing time with a talented crop of USC tight ends and enduring a rocky coaching change, Xavier Grimble could prove to be a solid NFL starter. He has the prototypical NFL Tight End build, but when any questions are raised around a player’s durability or dedication, it is alarming. He checked very few boxes in the pre-draft process too, performing terribly at the combine and exhibiting very little polish at his pro day. I still think he is one of the few sleepers in this Tight End class, and the former #1 recruit at his position reminds me of Colts TE Dwayne Allen.

9. Crockett Gillmore, Colorado State

NFL teams will find more use out of Crockett Gillmore than RSO owners will. The Colorado State tight end projects only as a situational in-line blocker, at this point. Actually, Gillmore has the ideal frame for teams seeking a tight end to help in the trenches. Height (6’6”), length (33 ¾” arms & 10 ⅜” hands) and a quick first step is a recipe for some early playing time as a #2 tight end. He’ll win at the line of scrimmage predominantly on positioning, but will need to bulk up to consistently do so against NFL linemen. Gillmore makes this list because he could block his way onto the field, and, for our purposes, opportunity to play is a massive factor in a tight end’s initial value. It’s worth mentioning that this native Texan has the catch radius, burst and huge hands to potentially stretch the seam and beat linebackers. He would be a late bloomer as a receiver though, as his route running is substandard and he is anything but smooth.

10. Arthur Lynch, Georgia

I’ve previously mentioned a conceivable correlation between first-year transfers and a lack of mental toughness. Well, Arthur Lynch contemplated transferring but stuck with Georgia’s program and started 24 of Georgia’s last 26 games. Once he secured the starting tight end spot, Lynch made an impact. Since the tight end is capable of reaching outside his frame for the ball and can work the underneath routes well, he was an important safety net for QB Aaron Murray. Although you won’t be awestruck by 56 career catches on paper, most of those came in traffic and in the short-to-intermediate area. He was also asked to use his power as a blocker more often than not, so Lynch was frequently running altered routes. While he is an intriguing prospect who subtly set up college defenders with strength and body control, Arthur Lynch has underwhelming athleticism, raising doubt about short-term RSO value.

Others To Watch: Jake Murphy, Utah; Joe Don Duncan, Dixie State; A.C. Leonard, Tennessee State; Gator Hoskins, Marshall

Rookie Draft Preview: Wide Receivers

Updated: May 5th 2014

NFL Draft week is here! We have arrived at the deepest position of this class, wide receiver. It’s your classic best-and-the-rest situation with Sammy Watkins far atop the list. Stay tuned though! This deep set of prospects will give RSO owners plenty of opportunity to build for the future at the wide receiver position.

1. Sammy Watkins, Clemson

Pretty straightforward here: His talent resembles a Julio Jones-AJ Green hybrid. Hyperbole aside, Sammy Watkins is the clear cut #1 pick for RSO rookie drafts, unless your team is absolutely stacked at receiver.

2. Brandin Cooks, Oregon State

When the Steelers drafted Cooks’ Oregon State teammate Markus Wheaton last year, they did so anticipating Wheaton could replace Emmanuel Sanders in 2014. Unsurprisingly, Wheaton is expected to be a primary target for Big Ben in his second season. I foresee a similar path for Brandin Cooks. He looks poised to be drafted by an NFL contender and to do damage in his inaugural three years. Cooks, the 2013 Biletnikoff Award winner as the nation’s top receiver, led all Division I in receiving yards per game (133 ypg). Although his value will primarily come in the slot and as a FLEX option, Cooks’ 5’9” stature will not undermine promising versatility both on the outside and as a special teams contributor. This special athlete has the potential to be the best slot receiver prospect since Randall Cobb entered the league three years ago. Consequently, this Beaver should be a top RSO draft pick.

3. Allen Robinson, Penn State

Watch Allen Robinson’s Penn State games and you’ll be blown away by his pure pass-catching skills. This soon-to-be rookie’s route stems need refinement, which will demand the attention of an NFL staff, but Robinson is chock-full of first round talent. To his benefit, he just finished off his second season playing for Bill O’Brien, the freshly crowned Houston Texans’ head coach. O’Brien’s former receiver uses prototypical size to his advantage, boxing out defenders and consistently catching the ball at its highest point. Not to mention, NFL teams covet receivers who can consistently beat press coverage. It is what often distinguishes a number one target from complementary options, and Allen Robinson is best among his peers at using his hands and explosion to break free at the line of scrimmage. He could be a second round steal in RSO drafts.

4. Odell Beckham Jr., LSU

Beckham Jr. is an athlete who has versatility, and teams may try to trade up for him. He will bring value both as a receiver (2,340 career yds) and in the return game (1,601 career yds). Experts have questioned whether his game speed will match up with his 4.43 track and field speed. Though, in actuality, Beckham merely stays compact in his movements, regardless of route, and he frequently exploits poor defensive angles. Long arms and leaping ability allow him to play bigger than he is, and OBJ has developed to the point where he is instinctively attacking the ball and adjusting to misthrows. As of now, Beckham is a top 10 RSO pick with a high ceiling.

5. Mike Evans, Texas A&M

Evans appears to be the kind of multi-tooled, big receiver the NFL always covets. He has 4.5 speed at 6’5” and 231 pounds, can jump out of the gym, and he’s been productive in his two seasons as Johnny Manziel’s favorite target (147 rec, 2,427 yds, 17 tds). Past basketball experience shows up in his game as well – he’s exceptional at positioning his body between the defender and the ball, and he high points throws with strong, reliable hands.

With that said, he has limited playing experience, as the upcoming football season will be just the fourth of his entire career. Additionally, he was not asked to run a full route tree at Texas A&M and benefited from numerous broken plays engineered by Johnny Manziel. Scouts have subsequently questioned whether Evans will grasp his playbook and intricacies of his position.

More so for Evans than any receiver on the big board, RSO value depends on the jersey he holds up on draft day. The threat he poses in the red zone will move him up this list, especially if he winds up with Stafford in Detroit or Eli in New York.

6. Marquise Lee, USC

There would be more buzz around Marquise Lee, had it not been for a re-aggravated knee injury in 2013. His slight frame and inconsistency against press coverage are two reasons he may escape the top 20 picks. The former Trojan must learn to be more assertive with his body position and hands when the ball is in flight, but Lee is a fluid athlete who can explode passed defenders effortlessly. I would be surprised if he slips by the Chiefs at pick twenty-three. Lee should not leak to the late stages of RSO drafts.

7. Martavis Bryant, Clemson

Bryant finally got his shot to start in 2013, his third season at Clemson, but sitting behind Sammy Watkins on the depth chart inhibited any opportunity to shine. Bryant has also been overshadowed somewhat by Watkins in the pre-draft process. Though not as talented as his former counterpart, Bryant’s size and speed (6’4”, 211 lbs.) make him an intriguing prospect. Additionally, his enormous average of 22.2 yards per catch at Clemson makes one think he is capable of stretching the field for an NFL receiving corps. However, the receiver will have to add muscle on his long frame and must prove he can consistently secure the football away from his body. Be mindful that Bryant is more of a project than some other WR prospects, so he’ll most likely be available in RSO second rounds.

8. Kelvin Benjamin, Florida State

Ever since snatching the game-winning TD pass in the BCS National Championship game, Kelvin Benjamin’s stock has been inflated by the media. Successful receivers who weigh in north of 235 pounds do not exist in the NFL. It’s a given he will not elude many defenders in the open field, and he relies on his physicality and ball skills too often. Although those skills may immediately thrust him into a red zone role, he must find other means to separate from defenders. His terrorizing size and potential (even if it’s at tight end) will be tough to pass on, but RSO owners will encounter week-to-week inconsistency.

9. Jarvis Landry, LSU

Disclaimer: I am not an LSU fan. One would think otherwise though, as my belief in this Tiger class of Mettenberger, Jeremy Hill, Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry is evident. It will quickly make a dent in the NFL. Specifically, Landry and his running mate, Beckham Jr., have been close friends since enrolling together in 2011. Both receivers are intelligent and were greatly respected by coaches and teammates. It seems they are primed to succeed on the next level. There are shades of Anquan Boldin in Jarvis Landry’s physicality and shrewdness on third down. He excels as a blocker as well, another sign he’ll quickly pick up on defensive coverage schemes. Landry will establish a nice NFL career on football IQ. He is a strong sleeper pick in RSO Drafts.

10. Cody Latimer, Indiana

Latimer is a late riser on most boards. He was not expected by many, if any, to declare for the draft after his junior season. Some doubts surrounded Latimer due to an injury that sidelined him until IU’s pro day and his playing on a bad team for the duration of his career. That said, his mix of size (6’2”, 215 lbs.), speed (4.44s forty), strength (23 reps), and explosiveness (39” vertical) certainly tempered any concerns about lingering injuries, and despite catching balls from five QBs in three seasons on campus, Latimer registered huge receiving numbers. Additional positive signs include the unique way Latimer can track the ball, while still maintaining foot speed and body control, and the former Hoosier blocks with an edge. The one area in need of major work is his capacity to initially separate at the line. He’s sloppy off the line of scrimmage, and Indiana’s offense was one that seldom asked for press coverage and rarely featured the big man. Latimer is obviously raw, but you have got to love that he is a former basketball player flying under the radar. Similar to his peer Mike Evans, Cody Latimer is a sleeping giant who ultimately will provide better value than an early pick of Evans will.

11. Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt

There could be ten receivers taken in the NFL Draft before the first senior WR hears his name called. Although underclassmen will dominate the early rounds, Jordan Matthews deserves to be on this list after ending his career as the SEC’s all-time leader in receptions (262) and receiving yards (3,759). He doesn’t have the nasty streak you’d like to see from a big man (6’3”, 212 lbs) and is not exactly explosive, but Matthews’ long arms (33 ¼”), whopping hands (10 ⅜”), strength (21 bench reps) and four years of college experience will allow him to stick around in the league. Count on this Vanderbilt product to be a more reliable receiver than analysts are giving him credit for. RSO owners should reevaluate his value when free agency opens.

12. Paul Richardson, Colorado

This kid flat out flew at the combine. More importantly, this kid flies in pads. His college QB was awful, but Richardson will bring a different dimension to most NFL teams as they stand. One NFL scout told Mike Klis of the Denver Post that Richardson “has first-round speed and athleticism, second-round hands and fifth-round weight.” He comes in at 175 lbs., so Richardson must bulk up not only to win battles on the outside, but also to protect his lean frame moving east and west. Is inconsistency also an issue? Yes, but there is more to like than not here. First, I love that Richardson was a team captain. While some may consider this fact a minute tidbit, it is one that professional teams weigh quite heavily. He also habitually attacked the football, contributing three productive seasons at Colorado, despite some awful QB play. Lastly, his father played receiver for three teams in the NFL and Paul brings a bit of that swagger you like to see in receivers. He is one of many undersized receivers in this class to keep a vigilant eye on.

13. Donte Moncrief, Ole Miss

Ole Miss did not challenge Moncrief with a full route tree, and on the whole, Moncrief’s physical gifts negated any need to do so. I can understand why NFL teams may be hesitant to roll with this kid as their first rounder. His hands are erratic and a glaring lack of polish counteracts some of the buzz around his combine workout. Still, it was there that he validated the label some had assigned him as this class’ most explosive receiver, running the third-fastest forty (4.40) among receivers and jumping out of his shoes with a 39.5” vertical (3rd highest among WR) and 11” broad jump (highest among WR). Oh, and this 20-year old workout warrior is an absolute tank. Somehow he’s under the radar and Moncrief could find himself in a very advantageous situation with a contender. As an example, the Colts have reportedly been showing interest. If the former Rebel ends up playing home games in the same building that housed his phenomenal combine, Moncrief is an automatic RSO pick – Drops will taper off when Andrew Luck is pinpointing.

14. Davante Adams, Fresno State

Davante Adams is powerfully built for his size and still has room to grow into his 21-year old, third-year sophomore body. His 131 catches and 1,719 yards in 2013 ranked first and second in the FBS, respectively. Those statistics are not particularly persuasive though, significantly inflated by quick throws and bubble screens from a top QB prospect at Fresno State. Scouts must predict how phenomenal workouts from guys like Adams and Donte Moncrief will translate. Adams showed explosiveness in his vertical and broad jumps at the combine, but a stiff running style could cause him to struggle separating from quick-twitch NFL cornerbacks.

15. Bruce Ellington, South Carolina

This is a guy who’ll definitely go earlier than expected this week. Once fans get a glimpse of his background, they may immediately flag Ellington for their RSO watch lists. Formerly a high school state championship QB, Ellington enrolled at South Carolina in 2010, went on to start 66 games at point guard for the Gamecocks’ basketball team, racked up over 1500 yards on the gridiron and managed to graduate in three and a half years.
Toughness has not been much mentioned amongst this group of wide receivers. Ellington fits that bill, though. He’ll frequently absorb shots from defenders in order to bail his QB out, and when asked to do so, Ellington usually creates enormous separation for himself on deeper routes. Character in not an issue, as the small playmaker is engaging and mature, but factors that may prevent his being an RSO pick include his lack of natural football instincts and prevailing questions regarding his commitment to the game. Bruce may not be picked in many RSO drafts, but his cousin, Andre Ellington of the Arizona Cardinals, sure showed last year that this family has NFL-worthy genes.

16. Jeff Janis, Saginaw Valley State

At 6’3” and 219 lbs., this Division II prospect opened eyes at the combine with a 40-time of 4.42, twenty reps on the bench and exceptional leaping ability. Rarely does a lower level prospect make waves with workout numbers. Accordingly, Jeff Janis’ measurable may look great on paper, but I’m skeptical they will be sufficient for him to keep up with the big boys. Janis is built to play outside the numbers, but the size and speed he exhibited without pads does not show up in game film. In addition, one red flag coming out of the NFL showcase was Janis’ hand size. He will unquestionably be prone to drops with 9” hands, the smallest set among receivers over six feet. Saginaw Valley State’s two-sport stud put up ridiculous numbers this Spring, but he’ll have to become much more technically sound to prosper as an NFL project pick.

17. Jared Abbrederis, Wisconsin

He walked on at Wisconsin, impressed enough to earn a scholarship and finished his career as the school’s all-time reception leader (202). That career was jumpstarted by the opportunity to catch passes from Russell Wilson in 2011, after which Abbrederis did not relinquish his starting job. He progressed steadily in each of his five seasons, ultimately flourishing during his senior campaign. The repertoire of double moves he featured this past season made many of the nation’s top cornerbacks look pedestrian. All in all, Abrrederis’s hands and smarts could thrust him into a 3rd or 4th receiver spot on a depth chart. Still, due to his slim build, modest measurables and concussion history, he lands well outside RSO draft parameters.

18. Shaquelle Evans, UCLA

Shaq Evans plays faster than his 4.51 forty time from the combine would suggest, but I would advise against trusting his 4.32 pro day mark. Six different Bruins, some of whom will not be drafted, clocked sub-4.40 runs on UCLA’s fast track. On a similar note, press coverage on Evans would worry me a bit, as he takes a few steps to get to top speed. Nonetheless, he is built like a strong safety who could employ some physicality against undersized corners. If he can control the line of scrimmage, his long strides and relatively large catch radius could make Evans an under-the-radar deep threat. On the flip side, I cringe when hearing of a first-year player transferring for no apparent reason of significance. Occasionally an indication of such prospects’ mental toughness, Evans’ transfer from Notre Dame is worth noting. Bottom line: Shaq’s technique will render itself useful, but if he wants to hang around on the next level, he’ll need to unveil some sticky fingers in traffic.

19. Matt Hazel, Coastal Carolina

In a class full of studs, Matt Hazel squeaks onto this list, based on numbers. He left Coastal Carolina as the school’s all-time reception leader, long dominating the Big South with tremendous body control and strong hands. However, he will have trouble separating from the elite talent coming his way, and he can’t afford to carry over a tendency to break focus. Do I see an elite skillset? No. Do I see a consistent one? Yes. Matt Hazel’s ceiling falls in the class of a James Jones, formerly of the Green Bay Packers.

20. Isaiah Burce, Fresno State

Burce progressed each year at Fresno State, and his statistics followed suit. If he does succeed as a receiver, it will be due to the swiftness in his movements. He’s also on the verge of being a reliable route runner and attempts to stab most passes with his hands. However, those hands look more like rocks from time to time and nothing about Burce’s measurable stand out. His playing style suggests he could be a difficult matchup in the slot, but the more realistic scenario for Davante Adams’ running mate is a seat at the bottom of a depth chart as a kick returner.

Others To Watch: Jeremy Gallon, Michigan; John Brown, Pittsburg State; Mike Campanaro, Wake Forest; Robert Herron, Wyoming; Kevin Norwood, Alabama; Brandon Coleman, Rutgers